MHC Profs Teach Online Courses

Thursday, September 6, 2007 - 15:03
Posted: September 6, 2007

This fall you won't need to be enrolled as a student at Mount Holyoke to experience the College's vibrant intellectual life. Thanks to the New York Times' recently expanded Knowledge Network, college students and lifelong learners all over the world will be able to take online classes with two popular Mount Holyoke professors, Vinnie Ferraro and Robin Blaetz.

Ferraro, Ruth Lawson Professor of Politics and chair of international relations, will be teaching a course on globalization titled The End of History or the Clash of Civilizations? In it he will examine how the growth of a global economy is eroding barriers that have existed since the beginnings of history, reshaping world politics, redistributing wealth, and challenging local cultures, to the benefit of some regions and the detriment of others.

Ferraro, who joined the MHC faculty in 1965, is a specialist in international relations and American foreign policy. In 1977, he served as an academic consultant for the United Nations Association of the United States. He also consulted for the UN's development program during the late 1980s. More recently, his expertise was tapped through the Pew Charitable Trusts faculty fellowship board, on which he served as a member from 1989 to 1995.

Robin Blaetz, associate professor of film studies and gender studies and chair of film studies, will offer a course in how to not simply watch films but to "read" them. The course, Inside the Art and Craft of Film, will instruct students in the basic components of the medium such as cinematography and editing, and use short excerpts from films to reveal how meaning is created on the screen. Online classes will include analysis of scenes from a variety of films, including F.W. Murnau's Sunrise (1927) and Alfred Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train (1951). The course will also include an interview conducted by Blaetz with New York Times film critic A.O. Scott.

Blaetz's scholarly work centers on women and film. She has published widely both in the United States and internationally. She is the author of Visions of the Maid: Joan of Arc in American Film and Culture, which was named a CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title in 2002. Currently, Blaetz is completing an anthology for Duke University Press titled Women's Experimental Cinema: Critical Frameworks.

The New York Times initiative is in partnership with Mount Holyoke and several other academic institutions, pairing Times content with faculty course material for both credit-bearing and continuing education courses. Ferraro and Blaetz worked with the Times over the summer to select articles, archival content, graphics, and multimedia content, including videos and Webcasts, to be made available online to students along with other course materials. Other academic institutions involved in the launch include New York University, Northern Kentucky University, Towson University, and Stanford University.

People will be able to register for the courses through Mount Holyoke's Alumnae Association beginning September 15 and will then be given access to a Web site that contains all the materials for the class, including a syllabus, assignments, and resources from the Times and elsewhere. Students will be able to communicate with each other online, and the professors will be available to interact online with students one evening a week for two hours while the courses are in session. Ferraro's course begins October 17 and ends November 7; Blaetz's course runs from October 16 through November 6. Neither course will offer academic credit.

"It really has been an extraordinary experience," Ferraro said. "The challenge of developing an engaging online course has been daunting, but the support and resources available through the New York Times have been extraordinary. I have been particularly excited by the idea of reaching a different audience, and I'm looking forward to the exchange of a wide range of ideas."

Blaetz has also been eager to work with the New York Times and its remarkable archives. "Some of the supporting material that my research assistant at the Times has found from the late 1920s [when F.W. Murnau's Sunrise was made] is unexpectedly fascinating and enlightening. In addition to the archival material, the Times has found film excerpts and filmed essays to supplement the clips that I provided that I will be using in the course to help the participants learn to see and hear the various aspects of the art and craft of film."

Felice Nudelman, director of education at the New York Times, said, "This expansion of the Times Knowledge Network allows faculty the opportunity to supplement their students' education with real-world reporting that deepens their understanding of almost any subject and brings a whole new dimension to the faculty/student dialogue, whether it's happening in a classroom or exclusively online."

This new initiative continues an ongoing relationship between Mount Holyoke and the Times. In addition to hosting Mount Holyoke journalism students at its editorial offices in New York, in 2006 the Times cosponsored the McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives spring symposium on outsourcing. The Times will cosponsor the CGI's upcoming symposium on China, scheduled for spring 2008.

Patricia VandenBerg, executive director of communications and strategic initiatives at Mount Holyoke, has worked closely with the Times to bring the new initiative to fruition. "We are pleased to be partnering with the Times to allow people from around the world access to our accomplished faculty. It's a wonderful opportunity to share the richness of a liberal arts education." VandenBerg added, "Our alumnae have been asking for a long time to take classes long-distance. We're delighted to be able to offer this to them."

The online education program is available through the EpsilenTM Environment, a newly developed Web-based software package. Not only does the program give students access to a wealth of research materials, it provides a wide range of tools and services, including ePortfolios, the Global Learning System, group collaboration, blogging, messaging, and social and professional networking. Users will receive a lifelong identity on the Epsilen™ system, enabling them to maintain their academic and professional ePortfolios throughout their careers, regardless of their academic or professional affiliations.

The EpsilenTM Environment is the creation of Dr. Ali Jafari, director of Cyberlab, a research and development laboratory within the Purdue School of Engineering and Technology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Jafari, who spent more than six years developing the system, said, "The EpsilenTM Environment is a new concept and technology framework allowing faculty and students continued access to their work after switching schools, entering the job market, or retiring. The Epsilen™ concept suggests that every student and professional should own a lifelong ePortfolio enabling them to collaborate and exchange intellect in a global community."

Related Links:

Vinnie Ferraro - NY Times Knowledge Network

Robin Blaetz - NY Times Knowledge Network

Inside Higher Ed.com (news article)

Epsilen Environment