Andrew Shennan in the New England Journal of Higher Education

March 22, 2013

Massive open online courses, or MOOCs, are an often discussed topic in higher education today. In a piece for The New England Journal of Higher Education, Provost and Dean of Wellesley  College Andrew Shennan reflects on whether MOOCs can work with a liberal arts curriculum.

Wellesley College introduced WellesleyX in December, becoming the first liberal arts college to join the collaborative, and also the first women’s college to offer massive open online courses (MOOCs).

"Wellesley’s purpose in joining edX is not merely to replicate the use that others have made of this platform, but to explore its potential in the hands of scholar-teachers dedicated to excellence in undergraduate education," Shennan wrote.

To date, the majority of MOOCs have been lecture-based and most classes offered were STEM-oriented fields like engineering or computer science. "By partnering with other education leaders, Wellesley hopes to help shape the rapidly evolving online learning environment, as well as to explore ways to incorporate technology creatively and effectively in the classroom," wrote Shennan.

"The question that we are grappling with is: How do we infuse the massive open online space with a responsive, collaborative and discussion-based learning experience—the kind of education that is truly transformative?" Shennan wrote. "While the answer remains unclear, what we do know is that it will take not only technological advances, but pedagogical innovation, bold ideas, experimentation and vision to translate the sometimes intangible components of on-campus learning to the online landscape. It’s going to take a liberal arts approach, which entails creative synthesis of knowledge and data from a breadth of disciplines."

Read, Can MOOCs Work with Liberal Arts? in the New England Journal of Higher Education.

Visit the WellesleyX page to learn more about the program and to view a video of Shennan discussing Wellesley's vision and hopes for online education.