Online courses now available to fulfill GEs

As a member of the Council of Independent Colleges’ (CIC) Online Humanities project, St. Olaf is now offering online courses to students for enrollment this spring. The CIC includes seven different colleges throughout the country which offered select online courses to on-campus students the first semester, and expanded access to students at all colleges in the CIC consortium during the second semester. 

Through CIC, students at member colleges will gain access to 14 new online courses, two of which are taught by St. Olaf professors. In these online courses, professors from the seven consortium colleges integrate brief lectures and activities which involve asynchronous participation and forums. St. Olaf Associate Professor of Religion James Hanson is offering a course entitled “Jesus and the Moral Life,” and Associate Professor of Chinese Ka Wong is offering “Digital Asia in America.”

“Last year, Jim Hanson and Ka Wong offered their courses to St. Olaf students online, just to see how that would work,” St. Olaf Associate Dean of Humanities Margaret O’Leary said. “They also offered their courses to the wider consortium this fall, and they actually got some students enrolling from the consortium …  they’ve had an experience now with what it’s like having these students from other campuses as a part of [their] online community.” 

The project includes courses that cover a wide variety of topics, some of which will allow St. Olaf students to fulfill their EIN, HWC, ALS-A, ALS-L and MCD general education (GE) requirements. Grades received in the courses will be included on St. Olaf transcripts but will not be calculated into students’ cumulative GPA.

“We’re using the same model as other off -campus courses” O’leary said. “If you go to Germany and take a course, the course grade appears on the transcript but is not calculated in the GPA. They’re not taught by St. Olaf instructors, and that’s just the general policy.”

O’Leary emphasized the purpose of St. Olaf’s participation in the project, distinguishing it from that of other colleges who offer online courses more frequently. 

“Some of the CIC Colleges are [participating in the project] probably with the hope of saving money or not having to hire someone … that’s not why we’re doing it at St. Olaf,” O’Leary said. “We’re doing it to see what we can learn about learning.”

As a one year pilot program at an institution which highly values the classroom experience, O’Leary does not anticipate St. Olaf developing many online courses for students in the future. She did, however, present the possibility of integrating aspects of online learning into classroom- based courses. This could include the creation of hybrid courses which utilize online forums to facilitate the learning experience. 

The project has been especially exciting for St. Olaf faculty who know or have worked with consortium professors in the past. O’Leary expressed the potential benefits that could accompany students having the opportunity to learn from faculty at institutions across the country. 

“I think it does offer the chance [for students to access] professors that you don’t have access to otherwise, but secondly, a different community of learners,” O’Leary said. “They will survey the students afterwards to find out what their experience was. I think the opportunity to get off campus without going off campus is kind of cool.”

The registration period for most of the courses extends into January, and enrollment is available to students at no additional cost beyond the tuition and fees paid to St. Olaf. To register, students must complete a Registration Request Form and bring it to the St. Olaf Registrar’s Office before the registration period opens for the college offering that course.