MOOCing the Liberal Arts? Technology and Relationship in Liberal Arts Education

The Thirteenth Annual Conversation on the Liberal Arts

February 13 - 15, 2014


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Conversation Format

George Siemens
Alexandra Juhasz & Elizabeth Losh

Peter Hadreas

Alexander Astin

Owen Youngman
Barry Bandstra

Participant Resources

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Weather Forecast

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Shuttle Schedule


Conversation Overview


virtual classroom

You might have heard that MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are the next big thing in higher education. You might have heard their merits: access, connection, innovation, low cost. You might have heard the concerns: anonymity, low completion rates, weak performance, even an attack on faculty.

What shall we make of this phenomenon, and of the many ways besides MOOCs that new technologies are making possible new teaching contexts and new models of higher education? And how, in particular, will these new teaching contexts and models interact with liberal arts education?


For many, relationships are central to liberal arts education: a community of learners that takes learning outside the classroom; close interaction between students and faculty. How are these possible in courses with tens of thousands of students? Are they possible at all in an online environment? It’s not surprising that some are skeptical.


Yet many argue that there are MOOC models, and other technological innovations, that might actually enhance the relational dimension of learning, and even correct some problems with the traditional classroom. What might be lost in face-to-face conversations is gained in widening and diversifying the conversation beyond what a physical classroom can hold. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr are, for many of today’s students, perfectly natural social environments. Might the relational nature of liberal arts education be captured—perhaps even enhanced—in a virtual environment?


The 2014 Conversation on the Liberal Arts took up these and other questions, reflecting on the promise and challenges of new electronic learning contexts for liberal arts education.



From the Conversation on the Liberal Arts, February 13-15, 2014, Westmont College