One of Bellarmine’s biggest selling points is the “Bellarmine difference,” the personal relationships that students form with professors. The university’s new strategic plan doubles down on that by promising each student “a highly personalized pathway” to success.
The strategic plan also calls for diversifying the ways classes are offered—such as increasing online options. While Bellarmine offers 10 fully online graduate degree programs, it’s the only baccalaureate institution in the region that doesn’t have a fully online undergraduate degree.
Graduate degree-seekers are often older and already holding down jobs; they aren’t looking for a college experience. As a committee works on an undergraduate liberal studies degree with a tentative fall 2020 launch, here’s one big issue they’re grappling with: Can you provide undergrad students with that “Bellarmine difference” if they aren’t on Bellarmine’s campus?
“I believe we can,” said Adam Elias, Bellarmine’s director of Innovative Learning Systems. Further, he said, we must. “The higher education landscape has changed dramatically in the past 20 years. Bellarmine has changed in lots of ways, but in terms of how we deliver classes, we haven’t really caught up to that yet. For us to be a leader and influence the community and the region as a whole, well, we live in digital times now, and that’s something we have to be willing to accept and confront head-on.”
Bellarmine does have a few dozen online undergraduate offerings. They have been particularly popular in the summer, both with students who return home from Louisville but want to take a few extra classes, and with those who remain in town, but have jobs for which the on-campus schedule of 9 to 11:15 a.m. Monday through Thursday is impractical.
Teaching a summer course has also been a good way for faculty to dip their toes in online, said Dr. Mary Huff, dean of the Bellarmine College of Arts and Sciences, and Dr. Pam Cartor and Laura Hartford, associate deans, who are engaged in developing the online liberal arts degree.
“They want it to be transformative for students,” Hartford said. “Not just a checklist; ‘Here are my three credits,’” Huff added. “They could easily be taking what they do in class and throwing PowerPoints online,” Cartor said. “They don’t want to do that.”
Bellarmine College offered stipends to four faculty members over the summer to develop online courses. One of the winners, Dr. Amanda Krzysiak, associate professor of chemistry and director of the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Program, used the opportunity to fulfill a longtime desire to design a science course for non-science majors. In Biochemistry of Food and the Science of Cooking, which will debut in summer 2020, students will learn about nutrition—and the lab will be their own kitchens.
“I personally love to eat, and the idea of helping students understand what actually is on that food label, and what it actually does for you, and how food changes as we cook it interests me,” she said. “This could be a really good way to bring science to the non-science-major population in a way that will benefit their lives. Nutrition is so important for all of us. What is a carbohydrate? What is protein? What does it do for you?”
Students will upload photos and videos of themselves and their creations to the course website, and all the data will be integrated online. “We may not be in a classroom at the same time, but there will still be a strong sense of community,” Krzysiak said. “We are going to be a community of people exploring something hopefully we all love, which is food and cooking.”
All online programs go through three rounds of reviews before they are certified. Elias’ office, which is located in the Faculty Development Center, provides support via Gabrielle Read Jasnoff, an instructional design consultant hired in June. “With face-to-face classes, we don’t ask faculty to build their classroom—that’s done for them and they come in and teach,” Elias said. “Same thing with online classes. We often rely on faculty to do a lot more of that technical heavy lifting than many are comfortable with, and I think if we have the right resources to do a lot of that for them, certainly in collaboration with them, I think everyone is happier.”
Bellarmine will, of course, continue to have a vibrant on-campus learning community. “This is by no means going to replace what we offer on campus,” Huff said. “Not just because faculty don’t want that, but I don’t think all students want all online.”
“A lot of students like the structure of a regular classroom,” Cartor said. Hartford added: “Some people even like the guilt—‘My teacher will see that my chair is empty—I must be there.’”
Elias agreed. “We’re not trying to trade classrooms for computers. That’s not what this is,” he said. “Again, it’s all about access. We are trying to open the door to a whole new demographic of student, a population that’s not going to be the student to come in here and sign up for classes during the day for whatever reason—they’ve got kids, they work, lots of reasons. And hopefully we can do this just as well as we’ve done face-to-face for so long.”
By Carla Carlton | firstname.lastname@example.org
Illustration by Kathryn Truman ’18