College introduces Lafayette ConnectEd

Nirupa Basnet

Over interim Lafayette launched Lafayette ConnectED, a set of three, week-long, free online classes for alumni.

Faculty members President Alison Byerly, Professor Chip Nataro and Professor Tim Laquintano partnered with students and instructional technologists to create an online platform for the alumni to connect and experience a Lafayette classroom through piloted seminars on various topics.

The courses were designed to feature the students, which is different relative to some other online courses.

Film and media studies major Chris Zacarias‘16 filmed the courses on campus and the alums had the opportunity to comment or ask questions through a web conferencing tool known as Zoom. Sean Courtney ‘15acted as a moderator, connecting the alumnus to the discussion.

“[President Byerly] definitely likes to spark conversation amidst large group of people,” Sony Matthews ’17, one of the participating students.“It never felt like she was lecturing the class or anything. I think those [online] questions really guided the conversations we had in the classroom, it wasn’t just [us] talking about the work we read…a lot of the comments we got through the web were so insightful.”

Increased involvement of the alumni community was also encouraged by Nataro, a chemistry professor who taught the course “A Catalyst for Change.”

“I could certainly envision a course model where it is more equally split amongst current students and alumni,” Natarosaid.

Laquintano, an English professor who taught “The Rise of Serious Video Games,”said blended learning with the aid of technology can help optimize class productivity.

“We value small classes and face-to-face teaching at Lafayette, especially as the core existence,”Laquitano said.  “But it’s possible to modify some courses by doing some kind of blended learning or flipped classroom by posting a video of a lecture, which would give more time for a discussion.”

There were many steps taken to prepare for Lafayette ConnectED, including finding student and faculty participants, as well as purchasing necessary software, Director of Instructional Technology Jason Alley said.

Maximizing the operation of the Zoom web conference tool to meet to the specific requirements of the three courses was one of the significant challenges, Instructional Technologist Todd Walton said.

Byerly’s course, for example, was a webinar,which required live streaming so participants could ask questions via chat. Laquintano’s course required a setting so participants could discuss things back and forth. Nataro’s course needed panelists in remote locations to contribute along the way.

The Lafayette ConnectED team is still accumulating the feedback from the students. Many students were pleased by Byerly’s course “Fictional Worlds”.

“[The classroom] captured this really elusive spirit that is hard to catch online, which made you feel like you were around that table,” said James Hija P’17, who stopped driving and pulled off the road to listen and participate in the class.

Lafayette ConnectED was proposed to build affinity and connection of the alumni community and have a life-long educational program that is tied to their institution, according to Vice President of Information Technology Services John O’Keefe.

“Anything and everything is possible. I think we’ve proven that it can be done,” O’Keefe said.“Question is: can we do it better or should we do it more?”