Since 2014, the Council of Independent Colleges, with a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, has organized a consortium of faculty and administrators from its member institutions who design and teach online courses in humanities. The members of the Consortium for Online Humanities Instruction first offer the course to students from their own institutions and then to students from any of the Consortium institutions. The second two-year Consortium cohort just completed its first year of work, designing and teaching courses for students from their own institutions.

From the beginning of the project, Ithaka S+R has provided technical support and evaluated the Consortium outcomes and implementation. Today, we publish “CIC Consortium for Online Humanities Instruction II: Evaluation Report for First Course Iteration,” by Jenna Joo, Deanna Marcum, and Daniel Rossman, covering the first year of the second Consortium cohort.

The forty-two faculty members (from twenty-one institutions) in the second cohort were more familiar than participants in the first cohort with online teaching, and their institutions were more likely to have support resources, including instructional designers and technologists to assist with course development. The students who took the new courses in Spring 2017 were also more familiar with online learning than their peers in the earlier Consortium cohort, with 65 percent having had prior experience with an online course.

While there were no comparison courses in the evaluation, Joo, Marcum, and Rossman confirmed that students were successful in the courses, both in terms traditional measures such as persistence and grades (with 90 percent of students completing their courses and 80 percent passing) and in terms of learning outcomes. Faculty members who completed a rubric-based evaluation of student work in their own courses and a small group of volunteers who completed a validation review of samples of student work found that the large majority of students displayed mastery of course outcomes.

While faculty satisfaction with their courses was generally high, faculty expressed some concern about the lack of face-to-face engagement with students, a hallmark of the liberal arts experience. Students also expressed high rates of satisfaction with the online courses, noting in particular that they value the convenience of asynchronous engagement. The students were somewhat surprised, however, at the high degree of difficulty in many of the courses.

All in all, the first year of the Consortium cohort was a promising start. Now, for the Fall 2017 term, Consortium members have opened their courses to students from all of the participating institutions. We’ll look forward to sharing updates and our final evaluation report over the course of the next year.

Does online learning align with liberal arts goals? Does cross-institutional collaboration play a valuable role in instructional design and technology deployment? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.