Small liberal arts college supports online courses

We’ve been posting recently on blended and online learning in post-secondary education (see also here and here), and have observed that much of the online course activity in higher education is within proprietary schools and community colleges, and more recently within large four-year institutions. In many ways the small liberal arts colleges have not offered as many digital options. All this makes a recent editorial in the Bowdoin College Orient notable. From the editorial:

“The Curriculum and Education Policy Committee (CEP) recently proposed a revision to the College’s transfer credit policy that would allow departments to start awarding credit for online courses. The CEP’s proposal is progressive for a college that just introduced online course registration this year. Courses taken online are often viewed as antithetical to the small, interactive learning environment of a liberal arts school. Bowdoin values the close interaction between professor and student, and frequently boasts of its low student-to-faculty ratio. However, it is time to acknowledge that scholarly work can be accomplished through web-based classes.”

The key points from the editorial are, in our view, that the editorial board acknowledges that online courses “are often viewed as antithetical to the small, interactive learning environment” and that “scholarly work can be accomplished through web-based classes.”

It’s not clear whether the editorial is suggesting that the scholarly work can be accomplished despite not having an interactive learning environment, or that the editorial writers have discovered that online classes can be small and interactive. We hope the latter. In any case, this announcement from a small and well-regarded college is part of a trend that we see: when educators look closely at online learning, they find that online courses can work and should be supported as an option for student learning.