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Sharing Classes: The 4VA Project

Sharing Classes: The 4VA Project

Some time ago, the presidents of four Virginia universities — James Madison, Tech, UVa, Mason — agreed with the Cisco corporation and the governor’s office to use Cisco technology to improve mutual coordination and benefit education and research in the Commonwealth.

The project is still being formed, and various facets may emerge. One initiative that is clearly beginning to take off involves using the technology, which is very suitable for coordinating small classes in different sites, to improve enrollments and justify classes that, in a single site, might face survival challenges.

We’re beginning with two courses in Advanced Chinese next semester. Mason will teach the courses, but they will also be delivered to Tech and James Madison. These schools will get a Chinese capacity they currently lack, and Mason will boost its enrollment in inherently small classes. Looks like a win-win, as the saying goes, thanks to some excellent mutual coordination and real leadership from our languages program.

We hope that next year this kind of initiative can spread to other language areas, facilitating programs in some of the lesser-taughts — even at beginner level — and giving students access to more languages than a single institution can reasonably offer. We’re also looking for other courses that might benefit from the same approach.   For example, there seem to be opportunities in some specialized upper-level biology offerings. We’ll soon be sending out an invitation to faculty for other proposal possibilities.

Other consortia have helped lead the way in this approach, particularly among the Big Ten schools, and our own arrangements will need further refinement. The results may not dazzle all state officials who were looking perhaps for more dramatic, cost-saving gestures and who tend to view higher education through a STEM lens primarily. But the results, even if small in volume, can really enhance the educational climate, and they will save a bit of money. And they may turn out to make so much good sense that the initiative will be worth sustaining independently, though of course we always welcome state support.

For now, the next steps include, obviously, seeing how the first, Chinese experiment goes next term and actively inviting faculty to think about other options in this same basic vein. Certainly, a more collaborative atmosphere seems timely and may pay off in other respects as well.