Upcoming Events

The Texas Language Consortium. 4/25/14 @ 2pm Central / 3pm Eastern. Silke Feltz (Schreiner University) will discuss her experience teaching shared language courses via high-definition video conference, as well as the structure of the five-college language course sharing program.

The Texas Language Consortium

In our final webinar of the year, the ACS was privileged to speak with Silke Feltz, Instructor in German and English at Schreiner University, and her colleague Dan Brown, Multimedia Specialist at Schreiner, who have been instrumental in the formation of the Texas Language Consortium. The TLC represents a collaboration between five small colleges in Texas which have committed to providing shared language courses in French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, and Mandarin in order mutually enrich the language programs at each of the five participating institutions. Courses are delivered through regular sessions to a combined group of home-campus students and up to five students at each of the remote campuses, who participate via high definition videoconference. Thanks to a generous donation, the five participating campuses have been able to created dedicated spaces, complete with cameras and sound equipment, to host these high-tech courses. It has taken some to get used to teaching in this fashion: Feltz wears and mic and is aided by a work-study student, who helps control the cameras that can present either a “lecture” view of the instructor or a “conference” view of the Schreiner students, as well as the screen that displays remote students. She and the other TLC faculty (each campus has one TLC instructor) have learned to work with administrators and tech staff at partner institutions to help proctor exams and ensure that the communications technology runs smoothly during class meetings. They have also found some tools to assist them, such as the CamScanner application, which allows students to scan in-class quizzes and send them in to Feltz while in class. Despite these challenges Feltz and Brown are already looking for ways to expand the program, such as inspiring a student-run Texas Language Consortium blog to facilitate greater communication between students at partnering campus, or beginning virtual conversation groups to stimulate more practice outside of class. With the many resources at hand–not the least of which is faculty and staff’s enthusiasm and skill, which keeps the technology secondary to the interpersonal relationships it fosters–the program is sure to provide a fascinating example of a liberal arts approach to distance learning.

Sunoikisis: Sharing the Work–and Sharing the Joy–of Inter-institutional Courses


When it comes to offering a diversity of courses, departments at small liberal arts colleges are often faced with a dilemma: faculty are often stretched thin just to satisfy basic requirements for majors and minors, may feel they lack the expertise for teaching specialized course, or may face the challenge of under-enrollment. These were precisely the challenges that group of ACS Classical Studies faculty came together to discuss nearly twenty years ago. Their vision was to create collaborative inter-institutional courses, linked digitally, that would rival the offerings their students might find at much larger R-1 institutions. That vision has grown into Sunoikisis, a national consortium of Classics programs that has garnered participation from nearly 80 different institutions since 1999.


In a recent webinar, we heard from one of the founding members of Sunoikisis–Dr. Kenny Morrell, Associate Professor of Greek and Roman Studies–as well as the current Sunoikisis Fellow in Curriculum Development at Harvard University’s Center for Hellenic Studies, Dr. Ryan Fowler. Morrell and Fowler described the program’s structure and the ways in which it has grown over the past fifteen years. Sunoikisis offers courses in Greek and Latin, typically on a five-year revolving basis. Each course begins over the summer when a Course Director, Course Consultants, and other participating faculty (typically 10 or so faculty members) gather, having read a collection of relevant primary and secondary materials, to work out a syllabus together. Each faculty member takes responsibility for one or more weeks of the course, during which students at each participating institution will read selected materials, meet for a tutorial session with students and faculty from their home institution, participate in an asynchronous discussion lead by the weekly faculty leader, and meet via videoconference for a “common session” that brings together all participating institutions. Students are typically enrolled into Sunoikisis courses through an already existing course on their home campus, and while grading is, to some extent, collaborative, final determinations for each enrolled student by his or her home faculty member.  From its beginnings within the ACS, Sunoikisis has grown–both through its time as a National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education program (2006-2009) and from its current position at the Center for Hellenic Studies at Harvard University–to include a nation-wide network of participating schools.


The benefits for Sunoikisis students are obvious: within the confines of even a single class, students are able to work with a group of highly qualified and talented faculty members (rather than just one!), and are eligible for other benefits such as archaeological field studies and student research symposia. Through the highly collaborative process of each Sunoiksis class, too, they benefit from interactions with peers across multiple institutions and hone the skills of inquiry and scholarly discussion. Less apparent, but equally important, are the benefits for faculty, who find themselves enriched by one another’s expertise, energized by the process of collaborative course management, and able to offer students a far richer learning experience than they could otherwise. An added benefit is the accumulation of course materials (syllabi, discussion questions, recordings of common hour lectures and discussions) which can be employed as resources for other courses outside the program.


Of particular interest is the course Fowler is currently leading: The Epic Hero in Ancient Literature–The Iliad. The course is based on a MOOC developed by Harvard University’s Dr. Greg Nagy (HeroesX: The Ancient Greek Hero), adapting content from the 24 hours of lecture offered by Nagy to the Sunoikisis format, and bringing together 100 students from Elon University, Sweet Briar College, Howard University, and the University of Southern Maine. This course raises particularly interesting questions about the possible use for MOOCs in the small college context, bringing students at a wide range of institutions together to work through readings and Nagy’s lectures in a high-touch, highly interactive way.  (A case study for this project will be available through an upcoming edition the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education’s Transformations platform).

Using Online Homework and Web-Based Grading in Calculus Classes


With growing interest among STEM faculty in the “flipped classroom” model for course delivery, there is a great need for case studies examining the impact of this practice on student learning goals and success rates, as well as instructor preparation time–and how “flipping” changes what happens in the face-to-face classroom environment. Dr. Hoa Nguyen (Mathematics, Trinity University) and her colleague Dr. Roberto Hasfura http://www.trinity.edu/jhasfura/ (Mathematics, Trinity University) are exploring precisely this question as they implement a software called WebAssign in their introductory calculus classes. So far, their finding suggest that the online homework assignments and web-based grading applications supported by WebAssign are creating a more effective learning experience for students and helping instructors–and the graders who assist them–to use their time in more efficient and targeted ways.

In her initial experiment, which was supported by an ACS Blended Learning Grant, Nguyen created a series of online homework assignments based on the electronic version of the textbook students used for class. Each problem was accompanied by study tools, including a “read it” function that allowed students to jump directly to relevant material from the textbook and a “watch it” function that allowed them to see a similar problem being solved step-by-step. Student performance was then automatically graded, providing instant feedback for students and a record of student performance for Dr. Nguyen–allowing her to tailor the next class meeting to addressing the particular types of problems with which students particularly struggled. Another significant benefit fell to the student graders who typically support such classes. With simpler problems graded by WebAssign, student graders were freed up to evaluate the students’ responses to more complex problems–a task which requires a close eye to the problem solver’s logic and decision-making. The additional time also allowed graders to make more extensive and helpful comments on students’ work. Student showed such improvement under the new WebAssign regimen that Nguyen’s colleague, Roberto Hasfura, decided to try the technology in some of his classes, too.

Another important feature of WebAssign is the Gradebook, which records student performance automatically and allows instructors to identify trends across assignments and even semesters. Gradebooks are exportable, so even if an instructor decides not to continue WebAssign service, information from previous courses can be easily archived.

WebAssign does have its drawbacks, as Nguyen and Hasfura noted. WebAssign works as a subscription service, so each student must purchase a WebAssign account for the semester; however, provided that the students have a device with which to access their WebAssign account and corresponding ebook, the cost is still smaller than that of the printed textbook. Hasfura noted that there is the opportunity for academic dishonesty both in online homework and online exams. But cheating can be detected by giving students an in-class quiz containing problems similar to those they completed for homework, and even prevented by arranging for exams to be taken together in a supervised computer lab setting. Another important issue is internet connectivity; even though WebAssign’s customer service program can typically address any technical problems a student might have in using the software, WebAssign assignments cannot be completed if internet access is down or restricted.  Even so, Nguyen and Hasfura have found this service to be worth the investment. As both noted, the questions students now bring to office hours are typically far more precise–reviewing a step in the process of solving a particular problem, rather than asking for a demonstration of the overall process.

To read more about Nguyen’s experiment, which compared student performance in conventional calculus classes versus those which used WebAssign, see the final report for her project. You may also view the slides from her webinar presentation here: Presentation_for_ACS_webinar_Fri_Mar_21_updated.


Is the e-Textbook Ready for Mainstream Language Learning?

E-Textbooks for language learning are increasingly sophisticated, with ever more interactive, multimedia content designed to help students read, hear, and practice their target language. They come with a full suite of annotation and reference tools, and are highly portable, allowing students the opportunity for multi-modal learning on a variety of devices, whenever and wherever the learner might be. And yet, they are not without their drawbacks: many students still prefer to use printed language textbooks, which present content in a different format, making it challenging for instructors to keep students using e-textbooks and students using printed textbooks “on the same page” in class. E-textbooks can also present an economic hardship for students, who must also purchase a device on which to read them–an expenditure which is particularly hard to justify if students aren’t using e-books in other courses. In the case of both print and electronic formats, students may not necessarily know or practice the most productive ways of using these resources outside the classroom, and may require some additional instruction in annotation, repetition, and other helpful study habits.

In this recent webinar with the Associated Colleges of the South’s Modern Languages and Technology group, Prof. Li Wei explores these issues in the context of the Chinese courses he teaches in the of the Rollins College Department of Modern Languages and Literatures. He also describes and demonstrates Chinese Character Trainer, an exciting new application for the iPad that he has developed with the help of Prof. David Porter of the University of Michigan. The application allows Chinese language learners to practice writing characters with their finger tips across the screens of these devices, coaching them through stroke order and accuracy. It is aligned with the textbook used in Rollins classes, Enhanced Integrated Chinese, grouping characters into lessons that train, drill, and test students based on the order in which they are introduced in the text book. It also stores students test results and provide a useful analytic tool that helps instructors understand what specific problems students encounter as they practice. The application was developed by Wei and Porter as part of a Rollins College Faculty Instructional Technology Integration grant, a program that funds faculty experimentation with a selected instructional technology, and Wei is now looking to revise and expand the application for use in Chinese programs at other schools.

Connected Classrooms: Bringing Students Together Through Small Group Videoconferencing

As more and more faculty experiment with class blogs, Twitter assignments, and other ways to use social media to connect their students to a larger audience, small group videoconferencing may not be the first thing that comes to mind. Videoconferencing, with its familiar problems of delay and interference, can be tricky medium–especially when differences in time zone, schedules, and bandwidth are added to the equation. Add to this the uncertainties that come with introducing new voices to even a conventional classroom discussion, and you have a potentially challenging teaching situation.

On the other hand, small group discussion is a tried and true method for helping students to work through new concepts, solve problems, and practice both critical and creative thinking. It is a technique used extensively by Alisa Gaunder, Professor of Political Science at Southwestern University, and her colleague Sarah Wiliarty, Associate Professor of Government and Director of the Public Affairs Center at Wesleyan University, who recently discussed their parallel course, Germany and Japan: Losers of World War II? in an ACS-sponsored webinar. Gaunder and Wiliarty share more than a favorite teaching strategy, however. As graduate school colleagues at the University of California Berkeley, where Gaunder focused on twentieth century Japan and Wiliarty on twentieth century Germany, the two began taking an interest in one another’s work. Moving into their post-graduate careers, they continued to collaborate, developing a joint syllabus and authoring shared lectures for their Comparative Politics classes in their first year out of graduate school–just as they would eventually do for the Germany and Japan course. This extensive cooperation, they acknowledge, is only possible because of the deep level of trust they have built up over years of working together.

With syllabus and lectures in place, the next logical step for the Germany and Japan course was creating a joint assignment–one that would benefit students in both classes but would also fit their varying profiles (Gaunder’s students were primarily upper level Political Science majors, whereas Wiliarty’s class was composed of a mix of sophomore and junior majors, as well as some non-majors). Their first thought was to host a class-to-class videoconference, but they soon discovered their campuses weren’t necessarily equipped to support this in a clear, reliable format. But then came another idea, based on years of successfully using small group discussion in their classes: why not use Google Hangouts–a free, easy-to-use videoconferencing platform–to facilitate a series of discussions between small groups of students at each campus?

For the first such meeting, students prepared by reading an assigned article, then gathered in their around a designated terminal and invited their remote counterparts to the videoconference. Each group played the role of a particular German or Japanese political party, responding to questions about their party’s platform and history. The second meeting was organized by issue, mixing student “representatives” from various political parties who described their party’s position on key issues and how it has changed over time. During both meetings, Gaunder, Wiliarty, and the IT staff providing support for the project circulated between groups, listening and guiding the conversation just as they might in a typical classroom setting. Both found it useful to include a debriefing session with students after each video conversation to review what had happened and what was learned, though it was not always possible to do so immediately afterwards.

In the end, Gaunder and Wiliarty found that the experience replicated many of the same benefits of face-to-face small groups–giving students and chance to listen, articulate, and rearticulate new concepts and information–as well as many of the advantages of bringing “visitors” into the discussion, with different perspectives and experience brought to bear on the same material. The new medium, and perhaps also the excitement of connecting with peers on a distant campus, motivated the students, by their own admission, to prepare and participate more fully in the discussion. The group also learned, from experience, that holding multiple discussions in the same space was difficult, due to interference and a lack of available ethernet connections. But even so, they plan to try these conversation again. The connection to other learners sparked a new enthusiasm in their students and helped them feel both accountable for what they were learning and excited about what they could teach. And that is certainly an experience worth repeating.

To learn more about this project, read this article in Southwestern University’s Newsroom.

Open Source Solutions for the Modern Language Classroom

Recently, Dr.  Michael Dillon, Chair of the Department of Modern Foreign Languages at Morehouse College, discussed how he is using an open source course management software called Moodle (Modular Object Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment) to design new learning experiences for students and gather data that can be used in departmental assessment. Among the many benefits he described are the program’s easy set-up (including no licensing or fees), the ability to control and manipulate all data gathered through tests, quizzes, and other assignments, and the possibility for creating digital learning environments (including discussion boards and glossaries) in which students can learn collaboratively. Dr. Dillon also created a sample Moodle space in which language faculty can test some of the available features–please contact Amanda Hagood at hagood@colleges.org if you are interested in getting involved.

New Professional Development Opportunities for ACS Technology Personnel

The Associated Colleges of the South is pleased to announce the revival of the Circuit Riders Program, which will offer up to $1000 in funding to sponsor peer-to-peer training workshops for ACS technology professionals. Building on the success of the faculty-to-faculty training model practiced in its earlier incarnation (1997-2005), the new program will be focused on the professional development of faculty and staff working in academic technology at ACS institutions. Many of our IT departments are already overburdened with service requests and maintenance duties, lacking the additional time needed to master new technologies or determine best practices for service delivery. This initiative, which provides incentives for ACS staff to develop workshops to be delivered at partnering campuses, will supply a cost-effective alternative to hiring expensive outside consultants and will promote further communication and collaboration between our institutions.




January 2014. Each participating department will complete a brief survey assessing its interest in and potential contributions to the program.

February 2014. The ACS will work with participating institutions to identify and develop potential Circuit Rider & Host Campus partnerships.

March-May 2014. Participants will submit a 1-2 page proposal identifying potential Circuit Riders and Host Campuses, describing activities to be completed under the grant, and outlining all project expenses in a simple itemized budget. Grant funds may be used to cover travel costs and the development of training materials for either virtual or in-person workshops. Grant activities must include the development of at least one sharable digital resource (e.g. tutorial, list of resources, etc). Proposals should be sent to Amanda Hagood (hagood@colleges.org) no later than Friday, May 16, 2014.

July-November 2014. Funds for selected proposals will be made available as of July 1, 2014. All workshop activities should include an assessment component.

December 2014. Participating institutions will submit a 2-3 page report describing project activities and assessing their impact and effectiveness.



Stipends. The ACS will grant a $500 workshop development stipend to Circuit Riders (individuals or groups) for preparing and delivering a workshop (virtual or face-to-face).

Travel. The ACS will cover up to $500 in travel expenses to cover each Circuit Rider’s or Circuit Riders’ travel to a host campus (or campuses).

Host Campus Expenses. Each host campus will be responsible for covering additional workshop related expenses, including: food and supplies for training sessions, as well as accommodations and local transportation for Circuit Riders. Any planned expenditures in this category should be noted under a separate heading in the project budget.


Please direct any questions about the Circuit Riders Program to Amanda Hagood, Director of Blended Learning Programs (hagood@colleges.org).

Interdisciplinary Learning: Connecting to Students through Video Lectures and Blogs

Making Connections: Interdisciplinary Learning with Lecture Capture and Blogs

Supporting interdisciplinary learning has long been a priority at liberal arts colleges–in fact, one could argue that interdisciplinary is central to the liberal arts mission itself. But for all their importance, interdisciplinary learning opportunities can be surprisingly difficult to create and sustain. It is often not enough simply to expose students to new ideas or methods of analysis; to understand a new way of thinking, students may need space for interaction, time to process new information and ask questions, and opportunities for applying new methods of analysis.

These are precisely the elements Dr. Rachel Simmons (Professor of Art and Art History, Rollins College) and Dr. Laura Hobgood-Oster (Professor of Religion, Southwestern University) attempted to create in bringing together their classes, Landscape Art (Simmons) and Animals and Environmental Justice (Hobgood-Oster). While both courses were already a part of the professors’ established teaching repertoire, the two educators felt a certain need for enrichment. Simmons, for instance, wanted to provide her students with a vocabulary of ethics they could use in examining how nature is portrayed in landscape art, whereas Hobgood-Oster felt her students could benefit from the ability to examine critically images associated with environmental justice. Their solution, facilitated through an ACS Blended Learning Grant, was to bring their May 2012 courses through captured video “guest lectures” and a shared class blog. Each created a specialized lecture which, together with selected readings, was shared with her partner’s students and further explored in class discussions. Simmons’s students also shared much of their artwork, as well as progress reports about how their perspective on landscape art was evolving, on the class blog Art and Nature.

IMG_0269Each of these elements, though used different by each faculty member, had a noticeable impact on the course. Hobgood-Oster recalled the excitement of watching Simmons’s lecture, “The Ideal and the Real,” with her students in class, slowly unpacking and exploring it as they might a printed text. Simmons, who assigned Hobgood-Oster’s lecture “Environmental Justice and Animals” as homework early in the course,  noticed her students’ growing awareness of environmental justice issues within the landscapes they studied throughout the semester, reflected in both their progress reports and their course evaluations. The lectures, crafted by using Apple Keynote to add each instructor’s voice-over to a PowerPoint presentation, were both easy and challenging to create; while both found the technology itself relatively simple to use,  transforming the face-to-face lecture into a compelling lesson meant to be viewed alone required much more preparation. As Hobgood-Oster noted, face-to-face lectures, with their potential for questions, interruptions, and changes in course, risk falling flat when “canned” and reproduced on the small screen. Instead, each partner worked to create a presentation that would be visually compelling and information-dense. One interesting advantage of captured lectures, though, is their reusability. Simmons has already assigned “Environmental Justice and Animals” in a second class, and, as she points out, students watching assigned lectures will often “pause and rewind” to go over more difficult points once again.

Image 17Both Simmons and Hobgood-Oster felt that an important part of this project lay in the idea of enrichment. Although their courses were not fully integrated with one another, the lectures and blog helped introduce students to a new way of thinking about and discussing environmental issues, adding a new dimension to each new topic approached in their courses. For faculty considering an interdisciplinary and/or insterinstitutional collaboration, but unsure of how to begin, Hobgood-Oster and Simmons felt their collaboration was a very satisfying starting point, introducing some important new concepts to each group of students and opening exciting new questions to pursue.

Digital Storytelling: Linking Language Learning with Student Experience

Digital Storytelling and the L2 Curriculum

Dr. Felix Kronenberg, Professor of Modern Languages and Literatures and Director of the Language Learning Center at Rhodes College, made an excellent case for the effectiveness of digital storytelling as tool for language learning in a recent ACS webinar. Broadly defining digital storytelling as the process of pairing images with students’ writing or speech, Kronenberg demonstrated a wide range of possibilities for assignments, including everything from video diaries in which students practice a new language by describing their daily experience across a semester (using a simple software such as VoiceThread), to comic strips that overlay images with student-generated scripts, to machinima–the practice of putting an original audio track over a borrowed video clip. In one unique project (the “That’s How I Got to Memphis Project”), Kronenberg asked students to interview immigrants in the Memphis community about their experience of learning to live in a new culture, then create a short film using material gathered from those interviews.

For a closer look, and to access links to further information, see Kronenberg’s presentation Digital Storytelling and the L2 Curriculum.

Hanging Out with the ACS CIOs

ACS CIO Hangout with David Hinson (Hendrix), Bob Johnson (Rhodes), Vicki Sells (Sewanee), and Pat Schoknecht (Rollins)

This has been a busy semester for the Chief Information Officers of the Associated Colleges of the South. But even in the midst of their many responsibilities–managing a wide array of information services on their campuses, evaluating new technology solutions, and working with a myriad of campus groups–the CIOs are finding time to just “hang out” with one another. More precisely, they are using Google+ Hangouts to host intercampus conversations about everything from learning management systems to information privacy concerns to the need for recognizing and respecting individual campus cultures when introducing new technologies.  This dialog has been supported by Hendrix’s Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer David Hinson, who is using a new version of the Hangouts platform–Hangouts on Air–to open these hangouts to viewers across the consortium and to make recordings of all past conversations available through an ACS CIO Hangouts YouTube page.

This new energy also buzzed throughout the meeting of Instructional Technology personnel (representing ten different ACS institutions) that gathered at Rollins College to do just that.  This collection of Chief Information Officers, instructional technologists, and library staff, convened by Rollins’ CIO, Pat Schoknecht, spent two days discussing IT needs and strategies, exciting new projects, and possibilities for future partnership.


A computer lab in the newly renovated Bush Science Center at Rollins College.

The conference began with a tour of Rollins that highlighted several new teaching and learning spaces on campus. A common theme running through the design of these new classrooms and laboratories is adaptability: many feature modular furniture that can be easily rearranged to suit a variety of learning activities, or “whiteboard” walls that can be used for note taking and diagramming. Some are equipped with large monitors which can display not only the contents of an instructor’s screen, but also that of students’ computers, offering a high-tech twist on the time-honored technique of pairing and sharing. Each of these spaces is designed to allow students greater access to information and new tools for creating, analyzing, and collaborating.

Participants then listened to a series of presentations highlighting exemplary work on each of their campuses. Topics included new teaching and learning spaces, strategies for addressing information services needs and technology training, and software solutions for data storage and departmental assessment. As participants listened and learned from one another, enthusiasm grew. The many challenges of this moment, they agreed, are the material for exciting collaborations ahead. Look below for a listing of presenters and topics, and links.


Jessica Vagas (Rollins), Greg Longoria (Trinity), and Melanie Hoag (Southwestern) listen to a presentation on 3D printing.

The Relationship between Librarians and Instructional Technologists 
Jonathan Miller, Library Director, Rollins College
Rhodes Helpdesk: Blending Library and IT to Help Campuswide 
Wendy Trenthem, Rhodes College
Collaborating to Redesign Library Spaces for Students
Candace Wentz, Centre College
Davidson’s Center for Teaching and Learning
Paul Brantley, Davidson College
Digital Storytelling Across the Liberal Arts
Fred Hagemeister, University of Richmond
IMG_0250When HD Videoconferencing and MondoPads Enter the Scene
Jan Pontia and Anthony Hambey, Birmingham-Southern College
Lessons Learned from Designing and Teaching and Blended Learning Certificate Program
Anna Lohaus, Rollins College
The Many Uses of WordPress
Jessica Vargas, Rollins College 
3D Printing as a Means Toward Visual Spatial Learning
Fred Hagemeister, University of Richmond
Amy Sugar, Rollins College
Introducing a Moodle Upgrade with Lunch and Learns
Wendy Trenthem, Rhodes College
P2Ps, MAWs, and FITIs
Carrie Schulz, Rollins College
Qualtrics and Camtasia Relay
Greg Longoria, Trinity University
BOXing the Cloud
Michael Vick, Furman University