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A rich summer mix: Vermont, wise mentors, e-tech

04.16.15
By: Mark Tarnacki
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Summer life at Saint Michael’s College for 2015 promises a broader-than ever variety of robust academic and student life offerings, with the now-proven and expanding “Accelerated Summer College” (ASC) from May 18 through June 26 at the core, says Dean of the College Jeffrey Ayres.

Given last summer’s successful experiment with  this innovative residential six-week, eight-credit ASC program -- which combines the best of e-learning technology with face-to-face instruction alongside appealing free-time recreation and nature programs -- Ayres believes the ASC’s popularity will only grow given its evolution this year:

  • A greater variety and selection of ASC courses – 23 this year in business, anthropology, sociology, biology, computer science, economics, English/writing, U.S. history, math, political science, psychology. Here’s some course titles that illustrate the range of learning: The Business of Responding to Poverty, Wilderness Photography, Environmental Science, U.S. History from 1865, Comparative Politics, Forensic Psychology --  plus fundamental offerings useful for students “catching up or getting ahead” in all disciplines.
  • A schedule featuring three classes per week instead of two,  based on last year’s student feedback.
  • Longer planning and more purposeful professional development for professors and student-life/wilderness leaders to optimize programs in every way.
  • Improved and wider choice of publishers of the e-learning platforms made available from the College’s Technology Learning Center: McGraw Hill, Pearson and Cengage are all being used this year.

“I’m quite excited by the set of summer programs available through St. Michael’s between May and August of 2015, including ASC,” Ayres said, referencing also this year’s hybrid courses and traditional summer offerings available to Saint Michael’s students, with such topics in 2015 as environmental film and poetry. Also on campus for parts of Summer 2015 will be Middlebury Language Institute students, in residence as they use Saint Michael’s facilities, and the traditional sports camps.

Other appealing summer for-credit offerings through Saint Michael’s include academic internships and five “outstanding study-away trips,” says Ayres, to Burgundy, France; the Buddhist Himalayas, Wales, China and Tanzania. Ayres is a faculty leader on the Wales trip, which runs May14-28, and which he is co-teaching with his colleague, Jonathan Silverman, the Chair of the Education Department.

“Though ASC is unquestionably the largest piece with the most diverse number of courses and residential life programs, all these other offerings assure a pace of campus life closer to the regular-year energy here, compared to the quieter summer environment of several years ago,” Ayres said.

Ayres says the hybrid model for non-ASC summer-school programs has worked well for several years, with courses launched by what are essentially three-day seminars that allow professors and students to connect personally before the courses “go completely online for the last three to four weeks.”

That contrasts sharply with ASC, which has offerings that are not stand-alone “online courses,” he stresses, but instead courses in a classroom with top Saint Michael’s professors through the duration of the program, but which make the most of online resources. Each approach has advantages, depending on student learning styles and needs, the College’s academic leaders say.

Bill Anderson, the college’s chief information officer and an architect of ASC, said that with e-learning technology, “learning analytics” provide students and instructors data on student comprehension of a given topic along with guidance for material that requires additional attention. “Basically what it means is that the technology allows for a lot of individualized learning – it’s adaptive, it responds, so whatever students do well with and what they struggle with, it sees what kind of content and style they’re getting and not getting at that individual level,” he said, adding that it’s a useful tool for both instructors and students.

Ayres says he put out a call earlier this year, department-by-department, and was pleased to attract so many top faculty back from last year along with some new names for ASC in 2015. He and Anderson think the program has benefited from well-thought-out close support by staffers Jim Millard and Anne Crowley and student Casey Chisholm in the Technology Center.

Anderson and Ayres say this instructional model is designed to help students “get ahead or catch up” in academic careers and life. The idea is that it “flips” instruction from traditional lecture format to the type of more individualized instruction that adaptive technology makes possible – even if traditional classes also make possible other unique advantages.

 The charge of the summer program is to use third-party content, finding ways to de-couple creation from delivery of content, they said, though some professors opted to use content they already had created earlier. “The notion is we’re taking advantage of a huge investment made by publishers or other organizations in the way software works that we couldn’t necessarily provide in another way,” Anderson said.

Ayres said that taking ASC courses turns out to be something of a cost-savings for students too, especially if they opt for a two-course “package” deal. Beyond class, appealing student life activities on this year’s schedule include wilderness outings – backpacking, mountain biking, whitewater kayaking, hiking and rock-climbing, plus service opportunities and fun events like karaoke or Vermont Lake Monsters baseball games and special desserts, or late-night grilling. The “residential experience” aspect of the program happens in one of the College’s modern and comfortable suite-style dormitories where students are housed.

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