Thursday, March 27, 2014

Faculty X’ed: FAQ on EdX

Colgate and Hamilton have jointly announced that they are joining the EdX consortium.  This initiative was first mentioned by the Deans (Doug Hicks and Pat Reynolds) at February faculty meetings and then formally launched on March 6.

What did the Deans say prior to launch?
  • Both Deans emphasized outreach to alumni and prospective students

Doug Hicks: “ We are looking for ways to reach out to alumni groups as
well as to our admissions base…”

Pat Reynolds: “[A]nything we do with edX is basically a C&D 
[Communications and Development?] initiative about outreach to alumni…”

  • Both Deans stated that EdX is unrelated to the curriculum:

Doug Hicks: “[EdX] presents materials online in a non-credit model
and thus Colgate’s involvement would not connect to our on-campus
curricular programs.”

Pat Reynolds:  “These offerings are unconnected to our curriculum and
akin to the “alumni colleges (faculty speaking to alums on academic topics)
that we offer at reunions.

  • Both Deans mentioned that joining EdX would involve offering public courses: two from each college in the first year.

What did the Deans not say?

  • Any explanation of what it means to offer a public course.
  • Anything about costs to the colleges from joining EdX.
  • Any indication of the length of the contractual obligation made to EdX or whether there is a public course obligation beyond the first year.

What is a public course?

A public course is open to anyone who registers (registration is free) with EdX.  Harvard and MIT, EdX co-founders, have recently released a series of working papers on courses offered in the first year of EdX.  

In the first year, an average EdX course had 52,605 registrants.  Of those registrants, 35% never even looked at the course materials and another 56% viewed less than half the available course material.  About two-thirds of the remaining 9% of students received a certificate testifying that they had successfully passed the course.  The 2,700 students (on average) who received certificates in a course seem to have passed the course based on multiple-choice exams.

What is a certificate?

EdX offers Honor Code certificates in courses and Verified certificates (where the registrant’s identity is actually verified) in a smaller subset of courses.

The certificates are described at and the sample certificate  below is adapted from

Didn’t Colgate’s strategic plan endorse joining a MOOC?

No.  The Strategic Planning working group on Teaching and Learning discussed MOOCs (including EdX) extensively and concluded:

B. Establishing a Philosophical Framework for Moving Forward
Thus we remain committed to the Colgate model. However, we should not ignore the opportunities that online educational approaches might offer. How do we approach these opportunities? The TLWG recommends that Colgate be guided by the question of whether they allow students and faculty to engage with and challenge each other.

• Will faculty be able to work with all students in the course, to comment on work, and to develop one-on-one relationships?
• Will students get to know each other and have the opportunity to grow intellectually from this interaction?
• Is the online opportunity incorporating a significant synchronous component, in which participants are engaged at the same time?
While we recognize that many online courses might meet these ideals, the residential nature of our mission requires that we limit the number and type of online experiences.

We recommend continued exploration of ways in which Colgate might take advantage of online opportunities, including experimentation with some online programming. We believe that online education will continue to evolve and that we not move aggressively until the direction becomes clear and is well-matched to our educational vision.

What might happen if faculty were given a vote on joining EdX?

Amherst College faculty were allowed to make the decision on whether Amherst would join EdX and voted the proposal down.  Press reports indicated that Amherst faculty had serious reservations about issuing Amherst-endorsed certificates in EdX public courses and that the fees EdX charges are significant. 

Should faculty have been involved in Colgate’s decision to join EdX and what does the lack of involvement say about shared governance?

Fill in your own answer below:

Summary of the Colgate AAUP Faculty Meeting

February 24, 2014

An AAUP faculty meeting was held on Monday, February 24 and attended by 47 faculty.  The following document provides a summary of the comments, organized by topic area.  The name of each speaker was not recorded so that all could speak freely.  

The ideas summarized below do not necessarily reflect the perspectives of the Colgate chapter of the AAUP and its officers.

The meeting began at 4:21 pm with the introduction of the officers of our AAUP chapter, and opening remarks by the chapter Vice President.  As with the fall meeting held September 30, 2014, this afternoon’s meeting stems from concerns towards faculty governance raised at the AAUP faculty meeting held April 11, 2013.  Items included:  (1) A sense that university committees are losing power by serving an advisory rather than a decision making role.  (2) The structure of the monthly faculty meeting is not conducive towards discussion of agenda items (although it was noted that recent faculty meetings have shown improvement in this area).  Also raised were matters of how well committees work together, whether we have too many committees, and the extent to which faculty voice is diluted by the composition of committees.   The purpose of today’s AAUP faculty meeting was to converse with elected faculty representatives of the Academic Affairs Board (AAB), the standing committees of the AAB, and the University Student Conduct Board.  Future AAUP meetings may include representatives from other committees.  The session began with the introduction of the representatives, followed by remarks from each committee’s representative(s), and concluded with a question, answer, and discussion period.  

Comments made by committee representatives do not necessarily reflect the views of all faculty serving on each committee.

The elected committee representatives were introduced and summaries were given as outlined below. 

AAB.  The representatives reported that current agenda items include structuring of the academic calendar, consideration of transfer credit for on-line courses, further refinement of the add-drop process, receipt of updates on aspects of the strategic planning process, and the University Honor Code.

The Committee on Athletics.  The primary effort of the committee has been on a comprehensive study of the student-athlete experience, aimed at improving the experience in important areas such as minimization of scheduling conflicts with academic programs.

The Curriculum Committee.  The committee has been primarily occupied with new course approvals.  No major curricular changes have come to the committee over the past few years.

The Committee on Academic Advising.  The committee is presently addressing two primary items.  (1) The committee was charged with drafting a proposal for changes to the pre-registration/registration process for in-coming first-year students (student on-line registration).  The proposal is presently tabled.  (2) The committee is seeking to clarify the role of the different advising structures for student-athletes.

The Committee on Information Technology.  A representative of this committee was not present.

The Library Advisory Committee.  Recent activities of the committee include:  (1) The committee reviewed a revised guide on copyright aimed at improving understanding and adherence to rules on copyright.  (2) The committee has solicited input for new journal holdings to support the activities of new faculty.  (3) The committee has considered policy for the culling of low-usage items.

The University Student Conduct Board.  A representative explained that the board reviews student conduct cases, commonly related to plagiarism.  A second representative stated that cases of sexual harassment and assault that used to be heard by the board, are now subject to the Equity Grievance Policy (EGP) process.  The representative expressed concerns towards the EGP process in comparison to that of the Student Conduct Board.  The representative felt that the EGP does not provide the same protections to the accuser or accused.  The smaller composition of an EGP (3 members appointed from a list of 41 people) compared to 10 consistent members on the Student Conduct Board may hurt continuity.  The EGP has no student members whereas the Student Conduct Board has 5 students.

Those in attendance were then invited to ask questions and share comments.   A summary of the questions, responses, and comments are organized by topic area.  Three primary topics were addressed.

1.   EGP Process
In light of the report made above, there were a number of comments, concerns, and questions raised pertaining to the EGP process.
  • The origin of the EGP and the limited role of faculty in the formulation of the EGP process were shared and discussed.
  • Aspects of the EGP process and its relationship to the elected Student Conduct Board were discussed and attempts were made to clarify the role of each group.
  • Issues of fairness and the treatment of students in the process were raised.
  • The selection and training of EGP participants and oversight responsibility for the EGP process was queried and discussed.
  • The role of the AAUP in addressing concerns towards the EGP process was questioned and considered.

Taken together, there was genuine uncertainty towards the EGP process, the relationship between the EGP and our elected governance system, the level of faculty input, and concerns towards fairness. 

It should be noted that the EGP had not been asked to send a representative to this meeting on elected university governance.  Concern was expressed by EGP members, who were coincidentally present, on the need for balance in the presentation of mission and procedures of the EGP process.  The EGP process originated as an institutional response to a “Dear Colleague” letter sent by the Obama Administration in regard to Title IX protections.

2.   AAB
The functioning of the AAB at the present time and recent past was discussed.
  • Some expressed concern over the AAB serving as a sounding board for proposals from the administration, rather than as a forum for discussion.  Cancellation of several meetings over the last two years and a shortening of the meeting time can result in crowded agendas.
  • The role of faculty as representatives of their constituents was discussed, along with instances of feeling undercut in attempts to represent viewpoints of constituents.
  • A sub-group of the AAB convened in the summer months, rather than deliberating as a full committee during the academic year.
  • Some felt that the AAB has not been functioning as well as it could. 
  • It was suggested that we need not revise the whole governance system, but rather strengthen the voice of the faculty within the system we already have.

3.   Academic-Athletic Conflicts
The ongoing work of the Committee on Athletics towards examining the student-athlete experience, particularly as it pertains to conflicts with the academic programs was discussed further.
  • A desire was expressed for a clear statement of priorities.
  • It was observed that our elected faculty representatives have a challenging task.
  • A member of the committee stated that a report will be made at the April faculty meeting. 
  • It was stated that the committee has been getting very good cooperation from the Athletic Department.  A member of the Athletic Department in attendance affirmed a high-level of cooperation.
  • A member of the committee expressed a continuing desire for feedback from the faculty as the work of the committee continues.

4.   Other
A question was raised on why faculty accept unelected, ad hoc committee positions.  Faculty were encouraged to decline appointed positions.


The meeting concluded at 5:51 pm.

Prepared by Rick Geier, Secretary of the Colgate University Chapter of the AAUP