The Andrew Mellon Foundation has awarded a $540,000 grant to the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges (COPLAC), a consortium of 29 public liberal arts institutions that includes the University of Mary Washington, to expand its multicampus, distance and team-taught digital liberal arts research seminars.
The three-year project, named Digital Liberal Arts at a Distance, is part of an ongoing effort by COPLAC to share faculty expertise while enriching students’ interdisciplinary learning experiences, digital skills and collaborative work habits.
The project will be co-directed by UMW History Professor Jeffrey McClurken and University of North Carolina Asheville History Professor Ellen Holmes Pearson. Both McClurken and Pearson directed the successful pilot COPLAC Century America Digital Liberal Arts course, begun in 2014, that was an impetus for the new project.
“This grant provides funding to extend the pedagogical promise of the digital liberal arts seen in pilot classes to students and faculty at public liberal arts schools,” said McClurken, also special assistant to the provost for Teaching, Technology and Innovation at UMW. “Building cross-institutional learning communities will enrich all of our curricular offerings, create dozens of significant openly available digital projects benefiting the public good and provide students with the opportunity to meet, work with, and learn from peers across the continent.”
Said Pearson, “Small classes and close faculty-student interaction are our hallmarks and it has been fulfilling for us to watch our students grow and learn together in a distance learning environment. We thank the Mellon Foundation for helping us to create an online learning model that is ideal for our public liberal arts institutions.”
Under the grant, faculty members, special collections librarians and instructional technologists from 24 COPLAC campuses will develop and launch up to 16 new digital liberal arts research seminars on topics in the humanities and humanistic social sciences.
Using distance and online technologies, student researchers will collaborate across campuses to build major digital projects available to the public on the web, and to develop research, production and communications skills applicable to a wide variety of 21st-century professions. The new seminars will involve upward of 150 undergraduate researchers over the period of the grant, 2016-2018.
According to COPLAC Director Bill Spellman, the project will “foster interdisciplinary initiatives, expand undergraduate research options on each campus, afford students the opportunity to study under digital scholars from a range of humanities and social science disciplines, and prepare them for careers where liberal arts thinking is essential.”
Seventy-five participants will be selected for the project, including faculty members, special collections librarians and instructional technologists. All will attend an opening three-day meeting in early June 2016 at COPLAC headquarters on the campus of UNC Asheville. Faculty will meet again beginning fall 2016 at UMW’s Hurley Convergence Center, where they will receive the technical training required to teach digital liberal arts in a distance format.
For more information, visit coplac.org.