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To cut costs, W.Va. colleges to share faculty

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In an effort to trim teaching costs across West Virginia, a group of liberal-arts colleges are doing something they haven't tried before: sharing faculty.

As part of a $150,000 grant from the Teagle Foundation, the University of Charleston, Bethany College, Davis & Elkins College, Emory & Henry College and West Virginia Wesleyan College are pooling resources to offer a remedial math class taught by one professor across the five colleges and sharing an American history professor between two campuses beginning this fall.

"It's bold and creative, and it's innovative," said UC President Ed Welch. "It is very unusual to find something like this, particularly among liberal-arts institutions. That's why we're experimenting with a new delivery alternative to see if it can both assure the same level of quality and learning as traditional classroom interaction but be more efficient to hold down the costs of tuition."

In April 2011, the Teagle Foundation awarded the Independent College Enterprise consortium -- a group of colleges that fosters collaboration between schools in the region -- a grant to develop a course-delivery model that would cut down on teaching costs but maintain a high standard of student learning. The five colleges participating in the grant came up with the idea of the "blended learning" math-sharing program and the joint American history class.

Michael Mihalyo, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Davis & Elkins, is heading up the math-sharing component of the pilot program.

Under the agreement, the ICE consortium will hire a "lead teacher" stationed at UC to lead the remedial math course for students at the five participating colleges. Local math instructors at each college will be on hand to help students with any problems they have, and distance-learning technology will allow the professor to solicit feedback from students in real time. Officials say the move frees up math professors to focus on higher-level math courses.

"I strongly believe that there exists the possibility for one-on-one interaction," Mihalyo said. "I think it can work."

Students at UC also will be able to take American history courses from West Virginia Wesleyan. The history professor will travel between Buckhannon and Charleston throughout the course to provide face-to-face interaction with students on both campuses.

UC officials say the arrangement allows the university to replace adjunct faculty members with an expert in American history.

Blended learning, a process of teaching that combined face-to-face classroom teaching with computer-mediated activities, has been on the rise at universities throughout the country.

Ninety-three percent of higher-education instructors and administrators say they are using blended learning strategies somewhere in their institution, according to the 2005 book "Handbook of Blended Learning." Seven in 10 expect more than 40 percent of their schools' courses to be blended by 2013.

Reach Amy Julia Harris at amy.harris@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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