A few days shy of the one-year anniversary of Hamilton and Colgate jointly announcing their partnership as new contributing members in the nonprofit, online learning platform edX, two free online interactive courses led by Hamilton professors will be launched. You can register by clicking on the links in the next two paragraphs.



Spirituality and Sensuality: Sacred Objects in Religious Life, beginning on March 1 and offered by Visiting Associate Professor of Religious Studies S. Brent Plate over seven weeks, “will toggle between broad theories of religions and specific case studies,” according to the course description. In the process, the course will “re-imagine our understanding of religion by grounding traditions in physical encounters between human bodies and sensual objects.” Each week will include lectures, readings, podcasts, images and videos.



Incarceration’s Witnesses: American Prison Writing, begins March 2 and will be presented by Professor of English Doran Larson for six weeks. After a brief history of the U.S. prison system and a survey of U.S. prisoner writing from 1904 to 1970, students will “explore—through prisoner witness—the issues raised by the unprecedented rise of the nation’s mass-incarceration regime since the early 1970s, and the central place that prisoner witness can take in understanding this system and its future.”

Those administering and teaching these first courses are looking forward to receiving alumni and parent feedback.

The college’s ultimate goal in allying with edX and developing online offerings, Dean of Faculty Pat Reynolds said, is to “engage in the national conversation about online learning, represent the liberal arts in that conversation and learn more about applying online technology to our on-campus pedagogy.” He added that he was excited to be able to see the scholarly work of Larson and Plate reach audiences beyond the world of academe, whether they be massive or small.

Library and Information Technology Services (LITS) Vice President Dave Smallen said, “Learning about what it takes to create a MOOC will be one of our major objectives. At this early stage I don’t think we have defined benchmarks for success.  We will look at things like the level of student engagement, percentage completion, instructor satisfaction.” Larson and Plate worked with AVS Multimedia Systems Technician Forrest Warner and others in LITS to create the videos associated with their courses.

Already, more than a thousand people have enrolled in the courses. The completion rate for these kind of online learning opportunities is typically 8 to 10 percent, according to Smallen. How many alumni might sign up for either course is hard to predict, but the hope is that 25 percent of those enrolled will be Hamilton graduates.

Both Larson and Plate have written books related to the topics of their courses. Larson’s is titled Fourth City: Essays from the Prison in America and Plate’s is A History of Religion in 5 ½ Objects: Bringing the Spiritual to Its Senses. Links to the books are provided on the courses’ web pages.

Both courses are free although students may work toward a “Verified Certificate of Achievement” for a minimum fee in Plate’s course. Auditors of Larson’s course will “receive a personalized Honor Code Certificate to showcase your achievement if your work is satisfactory and you abide by the Honor Code.”

Previously the college offered two online courses which in current parlance would be called SPOCs or small, private online classes. They were Lydia Hamessley’s Music in American Film and John O’Neill’s Jane Austen’s England.

EdX is a non-profit online initiative created by founding partners Harvard and MIT. The organization offers interactive, non-credit, online classes from the world’s best universities.

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