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Music professor Lydia Hamessley teaches an online music class to alumni in 2013.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded Hamilton College $250,000 to support the development and production of online offerings through edX, a non-profit, research-drive organization founded by MIT and Harvard and focused on online learning.

The grant will assist Hamilton with costs associated with creating and delivering four to eight massive open online courses (MOOCs) over a three-year period. Hamilton’s arrangement with edX, in partnership with Colgate University, requires that the institutions undertake four MOOCs – two per institution – in the first year.

Hamilton’s proposal explained, “There has been a great deal of discussion about the role of technology in our classrooms; about the potential for new technologies – combined with good pedagogical practices – to enrich learning and improve our students’ experiences; and about the potential of new digital tools to enhance access to educational opportunities globally. We are interested in ensuring that, as we grapple with the interesting and difficult questions related to teaching and technology, the voice and spirit of liberal arts institutions are represented.”

The proposal continued, “Having investigated best practices in digital education and with a sense that our college has something of significance to contribute in this arena, Hamilton has entered into an agreement with edX … EdX strives for high production quality, provides exceptional support and is flexible. At the same time it is committed to research that will enable us to understand better how students learn and how technology can transform learning.” The Mellon grant will thus assist with costs associated with faculty development and the production of course material.

Hamilton President Joan Hinde Stewart explained in the proposal letter, “The outcomes of our edX experiment can have a substantial impact on the college, our faculty, our students and the curriculum. The edX trial enables our faculty to understand better advanced online educational technology so that we can use it in a way that complements on-campus in-classroom pedagogy.

“By working collaboratively with edX, Colgate University and other liberal arts colleges, we will make heard a collective voice that will enrich the dialogue,” President Stewart concluded.

According to its website, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation currently makes grants in four core program areas: higher education and scholarship; scholarly communications and information technology; art history, conservation and museums; and performing arts.

The website explains, “Within each of its core programs, the Foundation concentrates most of its grantmaking in a few areas. Institutions and programs receiving support are often leaders in fields of Foundation activity, but they may also be promising newcomers, or in a position to demonstrate new ways of overcoming obstacles to achieve program goals.

“Our grantmaking philosophy is to build, strengthen and sustain institutions and their core capacities, rather than be a source for narrowly defined projects. As such, we develop thoughtful, long-term collaborations with grant recipients and invest sufficient funds for an extended period to accomplish the purpose at hand and achieve meaningful results.”

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