University of Charleston President Ed Welch admits sharing faculty through expanded digital capabilities is not a bedrock principle of a liberal arts education. But to provide enhanced learning opportunities and continue to make college affordable for its 1,400 students, he thinks it’s going to take unusual answers.
The West Virginia university announced last week it had agreed to a partnership with four other schools that will have the institutions teaming up for two years to provide shared math instruction. The schools will use a “blended learning” technique, Welch explained.
“It’s a blend of both face-to-face interaction and electronic transmission,” he said.
The schools will hire a faculty member, to be based in Charleston, to teach a remedial math course. The class will be transmitted to students at Bethany College, Davis and Elkins College, Emory and Henry College, and West Virginia Wesleyan College.
A faculty member or graduate assistant will be at each site to provide hands-on help to students, Welch said.
He estimated that 100 to 120 students could take the class, comparable to the size of a similar lecture at a larger, public university. By using one teacher and several assistants, each school could spend less on salaries and provide more time for other math faculty to teach higher-level courses, Welch said.
While the theory for the course is in place, the practical details have not been established. The University of Charleston already has some technology that could facilitate the lectures, but Welch thinks the school needs more to make the course as appealing as possible.
Welch wasn’t certain how the students would be chosen for the first year of the program. However, he said he hoped there would be a mixture of students who both enjoy and have never used digitally enhanced courses, so the program can get a fair assessment.
Welch said he thinks any student taking remedial math during the second year of the program won’t have a choice: It’s blended learning or bust.
“Otherwise, you’re not saving any money,” he said.
The amount of money the schools could save is also unknown.
A $150,000 grant from the Teagle Foundation, a national organization that provides funds for liberal arts colleges and students, would help pay for the faculty member, but Welch wasn’t sure how much could go toward bolstering the school’s technology.