Inter-Institutional Collaborative Courses Enrich Academic Experience

January 10, 2012

Inter-Institutional Collaborative Courses Enrich Academic Experience
Li Wei's class meets in Hauck Hall while fellow students at Southwestern join in via video and telephone conferencing.


Li Wei, lecturer in Chinese in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, is passionate about delivering a deep academic experience to his 300-level Chinese language students. “These students get to their third year of study and they want more. There is so much knowledge about Chinese culture that I’d love for them to have.” But as the lone faculty member at Rollins capable of teaching Chinese language and culture in the department, he’s limited by the amount of concentrated knowledge he can share.  That all changed when Wei learned about the Sunoikisis program.
Sunoikisis was created in 1995 by the Associated Colleges of the South (ACS) as an inter-institutional virtual classics department designed to enable Latin and Greek studies faculty to share their unique knowledge with participating institutions. What resulted was an opportunity for students in these typically small departments to benefit from curriculum normally available only at large research institutions, while maintaining the advantages of a small liberal arts learning environment.
“My colleague at Southwestern University, Carl Robertson, and I were inspired by this model and believed it could work for our Chinese studies programs,” shared Wei. “We could see the benefit of exploring topics outside of our traditional language teaching area, such as in Chinese music and literature, by borrowing from each other’s expertise and sharing them with our students.”
With a grant from ACS and strong support of school administration, the department and IT, Wei and Robertson began designing two collaborative seminars to fit into their own 302 Advanced Chinese course. “As a trained cultural specialist (ethnomusicologist), I have a lot of knowledge in Chinese music,” said Wei. “Carl specializes in literature, and more specifically, the 16th century Chinese novel.”
Utilizing Technology

Once the curriculum and schedule was established, Wei needed to address the technology needs and not only ensure that he and his Southwest counterpart were using a compatible system but that the hardware and software would be capable of delivering a high-quality educational experience to the participants. With the help of Ed Huffman, manager of classroom and instructional technology, Wei settled on a system that combined internet as well as telephone technology.
Weeks later, Wei and his nine students gathered in a classroom in Hauck 104 where cameras linked them to Robertson and his nine students gathered in a virtual classroom on Southwestern University’s campus in Georgetown, Texas. In this first collaborative session, Wei delivered a lecture on Chinese music and had Chinese musicians he hired play the instruments he was teaching about. A few weeks later, Robertson shared his expertise in Chinese literature by delivering a lecture on a poem from a famous 16th century Chinese novel, The Journey to the West.

Overall, Wei and Roberson were immensely pleased with the quality of the transmission and the level of interactivity between the students. They both considered the pilot program a success.

Future Plans

Thanks to the continued support of ACS and President Duncan, who sees this kind of collaborative teaching as critical to the continued enrichment of the liberal arts education, Wei and Robertson will present their second seminar series in the spring of 2012. Falling under the umbrella of the New Paradigm Initiative, this course will also include a faculty member from Washington & Lee who will bring expertise in the area of Chinese performing arts. 
“This is giving us the chance to expose our students to a wider range of subject material and faculty than would be possible otherwise,” Wei shared. “And it creates a synergy that benefits Rollins College’s long term goal of internationalizing curriculum as well as fostering broader cross-disciplinary, inter-campus collaboration to meet the diverse academic interests of our students.”


By Kristen Manieri

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