Faculty Will Weigh Permanent Addition of Online Courses at Thursday Meeting

Dr. William O'Hara (Photo Alex Pearson / The Gettysburgian)

Dr. Bill O’Hara taught a course on video game music last summer through the college’s hybrid pilot program (Photo Alex Pearson / The Gettysburgian)

By Benjamin Pontz, Editor-in-Chief

The Gettysburg College faculty will vote on a motion Thursday afternoon that would make online hybrid courses offered over the summers a permanent fixture in the college curriculum after three consecutive summers in which they have been offered as part of a pilot program.

The motion, which comes from the Academic Policy and Program Committee (APPC), would allow each department to decide whether it wants to offer the courses. Under the pilot programs, courses have had both synchronous and asynchronous components and have been taught over approximately five weeks during the summers.

Professor of Psychology and APPC Chair Dr. Brian Meier presented the motion at the faculty’s Feb. 7 meeting, at which he noted that both the Forward Thinking Group and the Curricular Efficiency Committee of the college’s ongoing “Sustainable Excellence” program have recommended implementing some form of online learning.

Several faculty members raised objections at the Feb. 7 meeting, including Dr. Véronique Delesalle, Professor of Biology, who questioned the disparities in pay between faculty who teach hybrid courses — who are paid using a formula similar to how faculty are compensated for teaching “overloads” — and faculty who conduct other professional development activities over the summer, including mentoring research through programs like the Cross-Disciplinary Science Institute (X-SIG) program for less, or no, additional compensation.

When Meier responded that faculty work on a nine-month contract and have no official summer obligations, appreciable groaning ensued.

February was not the first time discussion of hybrid or online courses has drawn hostility from faculty members. In December 2017, Vice Provost Jack Ryan faced a barrage of criticism during a presentation about a pilot program of online courses in the humanities through a program with the Council of Independent Colleges.

Faculty member’s experience teaching a course

Assistant Professor of Music Theory Dr. Bill O’Hara taught a hybrid course through the college’s pilot program last summer. In an interview with The Gettysburgian‘s podcast “On Target” about the experience, he said that, in some ways, he was able to engage with students even more closely than in the traditional classroom setting through frequent writing assignments and that, overall, he believes the college should take the opportunity to implement online learning in a way that is true to Gettysburg’s liberal arts experience.

“I think that really engaging as a college in the 21st century is going to require us to continue to experiment in these ways, and I think the opportunity right now is to do that on our own terms,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of opportunity for us to decide, what does online or hybrid teaching and learning look like for a residential liberal arts school, and, at this point, we have the freedom to experiment and decide that for ourselves. If we were coming to this in 10 years, we may not have that freedom. It may be a matter of, we’re behind, we need to think about our survival or our continued thriving, so I think it’s a really exciting chance to really experiment and find the ways that feel true to Gettysburg, find the ways in which a summer program can complement all the other things that happen during the school year and during the summer. I think that it can be a very useful part of the residential experience that we offer.”

If the motion passes, courses could begin as early as this summer.

Editor’s Note: To listen to our full interview with Bill O’Hara on his experience teaching a summer hybrid course, please visit the podcast episode and begin at the 36:20 mark. (-B. Pontz)

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Author: Benjamin Pontz

Benjamin Pontz '20 serves as editor-in-chief of The Gettysburgian. Previously, he served as a staff writer, event coverage coordinator, news editor, and managing news editor. During his tenure, he has written more than 130 articles, and he led the team that won first place in the 2017 Keystone Press Awards for ongoing news coverage of Robert Spencer's visit to Gettysburg College. Ben is a political science and public policy double major with a minor in music, and he reads up to seven newspapers daily. Follow him on Twitter @benpontz.

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