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What is the Benton Scholar Program?

By bentonscholars on April 16, 2013

The Benton Scholars Program was developed as a model for how a liberal arts education can be shaped to fully prepare students to think, act, and create in a world that is increasingly diverse and global.

Colgate University has a long and proud history of graduating students who lead in all aspects of their lives.  In the spirit of that great tradition, this program has been designed to infuse leadership and global themes into the Colgate experience by providing its members with activities and selected courses that will enrich and bring new perspectives to their experiences on campus and throughout their lives.

Each year, as part of it admissions process, Colgate identifies a number of applicants who, through past experience and/or expressed interest, have demonstrated the potential to focus with particular emphasis on the complex global issues that will challenge them not only academically as undergraduates but also professionally and personally once they have graduated from Colgate.

A carefully selected group of 15-18 First Year students are then invited to join a vibrant community of upperclass students who have already chosen to target their individual commitments and to expend their collective energies on raising the profile of global issues among their fellow students.

Throughout their four years at Colgate, Benton Scholars support and motivate each other as they develop into thoughtful, creative, and well-informed leaders both at Colgate itself and beyond the gates of the university’s campus.

Read more about the Benton Scholars Trips

Trip to South Korea
Trip to Argentina
Trip to India
Trip to China
Trip to Uganda

TBS Abroad Week 1: Coffee

By Jessica Li on January 28, 2015

01 - CoffeeWeek 1 Prompt: Coffee

Few commodities are as ubiquitous and varied as coffee. Frappuccinos, cappuccinos,  espresso, Turkish coffee, chocolate-covered coffee beans, iced coffee, dehydrated “instant” coffee, a French press, and American-style “drip” coffee: coffee, in one form or another, can be found in almost every part of the world — sometimes with hints of local flavor, or after-tastes of European colonialism. This week, observe how, where, and when people consume coffee. Is it a morning or afternoon beverage? Is it consumed “black” or with copious sugar? What is the most common form of coffee you see? (E.g. Iced, cappuccino, latte, K-cup, etc.) Do people prefer drinking from porcelain, or are take-away cups prevalent? Is coffee considered a luxury or is it essential to daily life? Are there local customs and history that inform how and why people drink coffee? Take at least one picture of a local coffee shop, your morning cup, or a coffee menu at a cafe. Avoid visiting Starbucks, if you can!

Ryan Hildebrandt: Japan, Not Cherries, and Tommy Lee Jones’ Face

Coffee in Japan is, like many aspects of the island nation, a bit of a dichotomy. Every day on my commute to school, through residential streets and city blocks, there were vending machines everywhere. Actually everywhere. It was a rare day indeed when I didn’t pass at least ten or twenty going about my daily routine, with every one I saw was advertising drinks of all kinds for sale with vibrant colors and celebrity endorsements. That’s where Tommy Lee Jones and his apparent thirst for the Boss Gold Label coffee drink comes in. It wasn’t uncommon to see his face on many of the vending machines selling coffee or coffee based beverages. Strange endorsements are a common sight on the streets of Kyoto, and this is representative of one end of the coffee spectrum available in Japan: the commercialized end.

Tommy Lee Jones on a "Boss" coffee machine in Kyoto.

Tommy Lee Jones on a “Boss” coffee machine in Kyoto.

On the opposite end of the coffee experience scale is the pure, hand processed, rich coffee of the Bonin Islands, one of the few places in Japan where Coffee can grow. I had the experience, along with my fellow students, to pick coffee fruit off the bush (called cherries before they’re processed into the more familiar beans) and taste the flesh of the coffee cherries. They were sweet and somewhat juicy, but the inner coffee bean was bitter and quite unpleasant if you made the mistake of biting into it. After picking the cherries and taking them through the bean separating process, we were treated to a cup of black Ogasawara (the name of the village in which the coffee farm was located) Coffee. I’ll admit, I’m not much of a coffee drinker, and in all honesty the first time I had tried coffee was about a month earlier in a small Japanese department store. But something about this coffee, perhaps the smell, perhaps the richness, perhaps the fact that I knew how it was made and how much effort went into each cup, told me that it was something special, something which was as far from the canned coffee on street corners as we were from the nearest Starbucks (about 600 miles away, imagine that).

Adam Basciano

Shalom from the Holy Land! Coffee is indeed an important part of Israeli culture. It comes in many different forms and is enjoyed by many. Tourists from America and other countries rush to kiosks and coffee shops for the delicious iced cafes. Here, an ice cafe is not simply coffee with ice, but rather a delicious and refreshing blended beverage. For native Israelis, also known as “Sabras”, a typical cup of coffee is whipped up quickly using Nescafe, an instant coffee brand. For late afternoon and evening relaxing, it is common for Israelis to enjoy Turkish black coffee. I am not sure where this tradition stems from, but it is hard to find an Israeli of any descent who does not own tiny shot-glass sized cups and the other essentials for making this delicious, awakening drink.

"Aroma" coffee storefront in Israel.

“Aroma” coffee storefront in Israel.

While it is easy to avoid visiting Starbucks while here in Israel, it is nearly impossible to skip out on the “Starbucks of Israel”, a description of the vastly popular “Aroma” (seen bove). Aroma is enjoyed by all, tourists and Sabras alike, as it is the first widely popular coffee chain in Israel.

Kevin Costello

When you think of large American cities that double as college towns, Boston is probably what comes to mind. I’d always known that Washington had its fair share of higher learning, but it wasn’t until Tryst that I fully grasped that DC has such a large, vibrant academic community of its own. Tryst, a coffee-shop-and-then-some located in DC’s colorful Adams Morgan neighborhood, enjoys a surprisingly strong draw from seemingly all of Washington’s geographically dispersed colleges and universities. When I first arrived on Sunday afternoon to do some homework, I expected a fairly calm environment, with perhaps a few American University students recharging and preparing for the upcoming week.

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Tryst Coffeehouse in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, DC.

What I found was a mini-metropolis of academic discourse, semi-militant nonconformity, and politically-charged artistic expression. This place was loud, packed, and moving. I sure as hell wasn’t about to find an open table, let alone get any work done in this wonderfully hectic environment, but that didn’t matter as much anymore. I was more than content to grab a latte, squeeze into the back corner, and people watch. I saw Georgetown and American University students fervently discussing President Obama’s most recent State of the Union address, while graduate students bounced ideas for their dissertations off one another. In the back, young professors with flannel shirts and nose rings vigorously engaged students who had decided to come to Sunday office hours. The appropriately-named Counter Culture Coffee wasn’t bad, but far more interesting was this coffee shop’s blend of hipster, chic, and activist. It was exactly what you’d expect from a cosmopolitan coffee shop frequented by students and academics, and yet, there was also a very unique charm to this particular place. I’m not what one might call a coffee shop connoisseur, but if the goal is to simultaneously draw on established bases while simultaneously forging a new, vibrant community with a culture of its own, then Tryst has certainly succeeded.

Peter Tschirhart — Reporting from NYC

Coffee in New York is like a public utility. It might as well flow from the tap. There are coffee shops wherever you turn, and it always surprises me how many are filled to capacity.

Inside Third Rail Coffee

Inside Third Rail Coffee

A few weeks ago, I had the surprise pleasure of taking a coffee tour of the City. We visited a number of different kinds and types of coffeehouses — from corporate chains to European-style cafés — but one in particular stood out. It was called Third Rail Coffee. The menu was completely espresso-based, and there were no fluffy, Starbucks-style drinks at all: no Pumpkin Spice Whatevers or White Chocolate Somethings. “Pure” coffee. There was really no need for all the added sugar anyway, to be honest. The coffee was so good, so sweet, nothing needed to be added. I can easily say it was among the best — if not the best — espresso I’ve ever had.

"Barista as superhero."


"Artisan" coffee at Third Rail Coffee, NYC.

“Artisan” coffee at Third Rail Coffee, NYC.











This was luxury coffee to be sure: expensive, though cash-only, served in unusually small cups, with delicate artisan touches. But it’s interesting to note how little was made of the coffee itself: its origins, the workers who picked and brought it to market, the farmers who grew it. Starbucks makes much more out of these considerations than most independent shops, like Third Rail. The focus here was on the craft of brewing (or “pulling,” in the case of espresso) and serving it — what I call the “barista as superhero” model. Equally interesting was how many customers requested paper cups and how few drank from porcelain. One might expect high-end coffee like this to be served exclusively in high-end tasse à café. But it wasn’t. I attribute the broader dominance of cardboard cups both to Starbucks’ bad influence and to the tendency in NYC to always be rushed — but in this case, the lack of seating may be to blame.

The Benton Scholars: Abroad

By Jessica Li on January 26, 2015

Infusing leadership and global themes into the Colgate University experience, the Benton Scholars program creates an educational environment that asks students to adopt an informed and critical view of emerging political, cultural, environmental, and economic issues. Just as importantly, scholars are expected to be outwardly focused: to share their insights with people on campus and throughout the global community.

Like many Colgate students, Benton Scholars often choose to study off-campus during their junior year. Unlike others, however, they are expected to stay connected to the program and each other while abroad–sharing their insights, collaborating from different points on the globe–with the goal of bringing different cultural and geo-political perspectives to bear on shared problems.

The Benton Scholars: Abroad blog functions as the locus for this collaboration. Each Monday during the spring semester, students will be sent a brief topic, idea, or problem, one that has resonance throughout the world. Students are then asked to submit a response–preferably a picture, video, or brief essay–which will then be published on this site. Responses need not be obvious: they can be creative, insightful, even clever interpretations of each week’s theme.

Entering its second year, we hope The Benton Scholars: Abroad blog will provide unique insight into topics of discussion and issues of concern that we all share in common.

This year’s contributors are immersed in different countries around the world, from Geneva to South Africa. Their profiles below:


Ryan Hildebrandt ’17

My name is Ryan, and I just got back from 4 months in Japan and 3 weeks in Korea before that. I’m from a small beach town in South Jersey called cape may, and I’m majoring in Psychology and Japanese.










Susan Price ’16

I am a Junior studying International Relations and Film & Media Studies. Though originally from Dallas, Texas I will be spending this semester studying abroad with the Colgate Study Group to Geneva, Switzerland. The program also includes a month long, language intensive home stay in Montpellier, France, two group trips through Western and Eastern Europe, and an internship with an NGO during the time in Geneva.





Adam Basciano ’16

My name is Adam Basciano and I am an International Relations major and Economics minor coming from Randolph, New Jersey. I am spending my Spring semester of junior year abroad in Jerusalem where I will be taking a multitude of courses including Hebrew, international relations, and Jewish studies.







Kevin Costello ’16

My name is Kevin Costello, and I am a Junior from Concord, CA (a short 20-30 minute trip from Oakland). I study Philosophy and Political Science at Colgate and hope to attend law school after graduation. While I imagine the Spring of 2016 won’t yield the most exotic stories or photographs, I’m very excited to “study abroad” in Washington, D.C. for the semester! I’m quite the political head, and as someone who has never explored Washington, I’m eager to share my new experiences regarding the movers, shakers, and locals in our nation’s Capitol with TBS-Abroad!



Jerod Gibson-Faber ’16

Hi readers, my name is Jerod Gibson-Faber.  I am currently a junior at Colgate University and am studying history.  I’m writing from London, England, as I’m also currently studying abroad.  During my time abroad I hope to immerse myself in local culture as well as complete my capstone paper for my major.  I love soccer and play on the club level while acting as the student manager for both the men’s and women’s varsity teams at Colgate.  I hope to attend as many games possible while I’m in the UK.

katrina_lab (1)

Katrina Bennett ’16

Katrina is a current junior from Leonardtown, MD, majoring in Neuroscience. Katrina’s main interests include public health, global health, infectious diseases, and small scale community development. At Colgate, Katrina is involved with the Shaw Wellness Institute, the Colgate Global Health Initiative, Oxfam, and other organizations. Katrina is beyond excited to spend a semester in South Africa and hopes to learn much about this fascinating nation.




Student Profile: Jacq Zier ’15

By Jessica Li on December 4, 2014

FullSizeRender-2 copy

Name: Jacq Zier
Class year: 2015
Hometown: Eastsound, Washington
Major: Molecular Biology/Premed

Benton senior Jacq Zier has spent her Colgate career fostering a love for biology. Jacq spent the last two summers interning in her home state of Washington at the SeaDoc Society and the Marine Mammal Stranding Network.

The SeaDoc Society does research focused on measuring and maintaining the health of the Salish Sea, a body of water that stretches from Seattle up through Vancouver. It is a large ecosystem which contains a variety of species. “Seattle and Vancouver are large urban centers that have unloaded a lot of pollution into the water,” Jacq explained. “In addition to that, the area has had a history of overfishing, especially salmon. In essence, the Salish Sea is a really vibrant marine environment, however it has a lot of stresses on it.”

During her first summer at the SeaDoc Society Jacq wrote a species profile of harbor seals. Her article was published in the encyclopedia of Puget Sound, a big project in the region. Additionally, Jacq has made significant contributions to the list of species of concern in the Salish Sea by compiling the four existing lists into one. “A list that accurately describes the status of species diversity is a better metric for looking at the health of the ecosystem, because it is complete, and shows that more and more species are becoming threatened every year”. Jacq presented her findings at the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference, and won first place for undergraduate presentations.

In addition to her contributions at the SeaDoc Society, Jacq had the opportunity to work as an Assistant Coordinator at the San Juan County Marine Mammal Stranding Network. “Harbor seals are the most abundant marine mammal in the Salish Sea,” Jacq explained. “Their population is at carrying capacity, which means that their populations are limited by food and space. This is a healthy sign for their population, however this also means that many of the seals will die. The population has an approximately 90% mortality rate.”

Mature harbor seals will reproduce once a year. Because all of the seals mate at the same time, they all give birth at the same time. This results in an annual pupping season, when the seals all have their babies within one month, usually July. During pupping season, the Salish Sea is filled with newborn harbor seals. Unfortunately, during this season, the young pups can also lose their mothers and get stranded on beaches.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act however forbids anyone to touch or help any protected marine mammals. “That’s where the marine mammal stranding network comes in. Anyone can call if they have a sighting of a stranded marine animal.” Jacq’s job was to respond to those calls, examine the baby seals, tag them, and monitor them after the physical.

Jacq’s experience on the team left her with a better understanding of the cross section between science and the community. She described: “Working at the Marine Mammal Stranding Network was a really wonderful experience because we were able to translate science to the community, and include people who aren’t normally involved in science. It was fun to share what I know about the biology of harbor seals with others, and to apply my knowledge to a worthwhile cause. People in the community get very attached to harbor seals, so it was fun to not only help the seals, but also talk to so many people who were touched by the seals, and help them understand the ecology and the biology of the animals that they cared so much about.”

By Jessica Spero Li ‘15




Benton Scholars: Student Activism on Campus

By Jessica Li on October 28, 2014

In the early hours of Monday, September 22nd, a group of Colgate students convened at the admissions building in a peaceful demonstration, with the goal of holding Colgate to it’s promise of “being an inclusive institution for students of all backgrounds.” These students put together a comprehensive plan of action, later distributed throughout the campus. They promised to stay at admissions until the administration responded with a comprehensive and actionable plan.

Five days later, Colgate’s administration presented a plan of action, which the ACC’s leaders agreed was a sufficient first step in what they referred to as a sustained process of development, with the goal creating a Colgate that is “a truly inclusive institution where students feel comfortable and welcome, regardless of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, ability, and gender identity.”

Hannah O’Malley, Sharon Nicol, and Grace Western–three highly active ‘17 Benton Scholars–were intimately involved in the movement. Each of them spoke about their experience as empowering and challenging on both an intellectual and emotional level.

The reasons these three women contributed to the sit-in speak to the complexities of the protest. Sharon described how she has taken many classes on topics of gender, hetero-normativity, and privilege, and has surrounded herself with peers interested in talking about those same subjects. Yet, she described her frustration with the reality that these conversations rarely leave the classroom. Hannah likewise described the incongruity she has observed between the way individuals speak in the classroom and the way they behave outside the classroom.

Hannah, Sharon, and Grace therefore committed themselves to the cause. For five days, they ate, worked, and slept in the admissions building. Alongside hundreds of their peers, they heard and shared individual accounts of prejudice, micro aggressions, sexism, and classism that exist on campus and in society. Many of these stories moved the audience, bringing them to tears. That people felt safe enough to share their stories in that environment, Hannah explained, was incredibly uplifting.

When asked about the most moving aspects of the protest, Sharon explained how “we often make these topics into academic conversations, but when I see someone show emotion, I realize that it is real and not about a theory, but that these issues are actually affecting someone’s life, their well being.”

Participating in the protest was not without its challenges, however. All three women spoke to the difficulty of engaging in productive dialogue with individuals who do not see the same issues as problematic. Grace explained her process of learning involved understanding the importance of explaining her perspective without devaluating other people’s opinions.

Ultimately, their sentiments towards the future of this movement are predominantly hopeful. “Personally, this experience broke down a lot of prejudices that I had,” Hannah said. “Typically these kinds of movements only include those who are marginalized or who the issues directly affect.” This movement, though, engaged concerned students from all corners of our campus. “It gave me a lot of hope for this campus,” Hannah stated.

Grace, Hannah, and Sharon are three students among several hundred who participated in the protests. Each student that I have spoken with who found themselves involved with the protests have emphasized the the ongoing nature of this movement. The work of the ACC has just begun, and in their view, the future of Colgate looks bright.



Hannah O’Malley ’17 – Transnational Media Studies

Sharon Nicol ‘17—Peace and Conflict Studies, African Studies Minor

Grace Western ‘17—Political Science and Women’s Studies


Author: Jessica Spero Li ’15


Benton Summer Project: Reflections, Part IV

By Peter Tschirhart on October 15, 2014

A small group of Benton Scholars took MOOCs during the summer of 2014. Participation was voluntary, and no Colgate course credit was granted. After finishing, we asked each student to write a response capturing their thoughts and reactions to this experience. Selected responses are reproduced below. Please note: the opinions expressed here are those of students–not the Benton Scholars program or Colgate University more generally.

Click here to find out more about the project behind these posts. Click here to learn more about the Online Education Symposium being sponsored by the Benton Scholars program.

Ishir Dutta ’17 (excerpts):

I have taken MIT’s “Introduction to Electricity and Magnetism” (EM), the Linux Foundation’s “Introduction to Linux” (Linux), and am currently in the middle of Harvard’s “Introduction to Computer Science” (CS50). I’ve also dabbled in solar energy, mechanics (both a student’s course and a teacher’s course), circuits and electronics, justice, linear algebra and oscillatory systems to varying degrees of intensity. Here, I’ll talk about the first three courses while also drawing on my limited experience with the others in the back of my mind.

Some Fundamental Issues

If we are to seriously consider testing an online platform, we need to take a closer look at its offline equivalent. Take the college transcript for instance. Yes, there are the classes you took and the grades you got with your name printed on it, but there is a great deal that a college transcript (or diploma, for that matter) conveys that isn’t printed anywhere. General classroom policies, grading policies, examinations, academic honesty – these are all aspects of a formal college education that we don’t ever really need to spell out because, besides the professors conducting weird classroom experiments or being particularly lenient, they’re fairly consistent all over the world.

One way to be intentional and mindful of all this information would be to offer different “tracks” – open or guided course material, closed or open book exams (harder to actually monitor, but in principle), languages to be made available – and essentially make the experience customizable so that we can reflect more accurately the KIND of course that’s been completed. I realize that this may require more work on the back end, but I don’t see it being a monumental task (may be completely wrong here. I don’t write the code for online courses, I just take them).

I’ve noticed (from a distance) that the use of fora to discuss course material is a massive plus for online course work. The CS50 group on Facebook has over 40,000 members, there are similar groups on reddit and twitter as well. This allows for almost instant feedback and help from community members. While I didn’t use these for my own questions, they had a massive impact on the way I viewed my own skills (or lack of them) within a larger classroom. I felt motivated to push through problem sets that I would have probably given up on because I kept bumping into a stupid mistake that refused to reveal itself to me. The occasional appearance of the instructors on these fora in CS as well as EM (Prof. Lewin, who taught EM, made it a point to answer every question directed at him – fantastic to be a part of) made the courses so much more engaging. These were people that actually existed beyond the recorded lectures and classrooms far, far away. The production of weekly/biweekly exclusive content for both these courses had a similar motivational effect.

Limitations (work in progress)

The biggest roadblock I kept hitting was that of bandwidth. Internet access is expensive, and taking a 4 month course meant trawling through tens of gigabytes of course material, sometimes repeatedly. Given that the ultimate goal (as I see it) of the online course is to provide a world class education to those who do not have access to it for any reason, this is a pretty major issue.

Laine Barrand ’17:

The online course I chose to take was “Competitive Strategy” offered by Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität-München via Coursera. The course was organized into 6 modules that were about an hour long each. The modules were comprised of video-lectures, and the professor alternated between speaking directly into the camera and using a graphic interface to illustrate various concepts directly on the screen. The modules consisted of sub-videos that were each around 10-15 minutes long. Between every other sub-video there was a quiz, consisting of 3-4 questions, to check comprehension. After each module, there was a larger quiz of 10 questions; and at the conclusion of the course, there was a cumulative final exam of 25 questions.

What I really liked about this course was its flexibility. Unlike other online courses I’ve taken, this one was entirely self-timed. This is a major advantage online education has over classroom learning, because it enables people who may not consistently have extra time to still take the course when it’s convenient. While I chose to watch the modules over the span of a couple of weeks, someone else could have chosen to complete the entire course in an afternoon.

However, while the information I learned is useful and has been applicable to my coursework at Colgate, I believe online education should be used to complement classroom learning and not to replace it. In one of the other courses I took this summer, the format included an open forum where students could “interact” with others by posting thoughts and questions and having other students respond. This cannot replace the spontaneous discussions that happen in a physical classroom, and I would argue that we learn more from in-class discussions than we do from posting in a forum. However, I think online education has a lot of potential as a complement to classroom learning.

Taylor Mooney ’17:

Since I knew very little about online education to begin with, I felt it would be appropriate for me to take a class called “Emerging Trends & Technologies in the Virtual K-12 Classroom” from UC Irvine. In this course, Professor Melissa Loble discussed the various facets of online instruction, including what options are available and how to implement them. This course was taught in 5 modules, with a quiz at the end of each module, and one peer-reviewed assignment. It was asynchronous, but there were synchronous activities (like Twitter chats and forum discussions) that were optional, but highly encouraged.

The biggest concern I had stemmed from peer-reviewed assignments. This course was a MOOC, so there were hundreds of students taking it, and obviously our professor couldn’t grade individual assignments, so the peer review assignment was instituted. The opportunities to practice effective peer reviewing are obviously very important; but out of three people who critiqued my paper, I felt only one gave me thought-out feedback. I assume that the people taking the course knew just as much as I did about using technologies in the classroom–so how effective can peer review be?

I tried to figure out a way to make this aspect of MOOCs more effective. However, I found that the issue is not so much the assignment–it’s how big the class is. Colgate can use MOOCs more for advertising or branding purposes, since it can reach out to a huge population at once, but I don’t feel they are the right route to take if we’re looking for intellectual growth. I would certainly prefer a more intimate online classroom of around 10-15 people, where I could get more one-on-one attention from a professor and also create more of a community with other students. This kind of online class would be more conducive to my learning style. Not only this, but it is also easier for the professor to manage, allowing more time to focus on the actual material and not the technical issues that arise from having thousands of students to take care of at once.

Sharon Nicol ’17:

When I first started my MOOC venture, I was taking a course called “Programming for Everybody” from the University of Michigan. Technical difficulties kept me from completing the programming course, and ultimately this was a blessing, because the issues I found with the course that I completed would have been magnified in a subject area in which I have difficulty, such as computer science.

I completed a course called “The Camera Never Lies,” provided by Royal Holloway, University of London, through Coursera. The course was the perfect synthesis of courses I had taken in the spring [at Colgate], including “Intro to Film and Media Studies,” “Challenges of Modernity,” and “Intro to Peace and Conflict Studies,” because it focused on the role of images as historical evidence and brought up issues of authenticity, manipulation, and how images are used in the development of popular opinion. My motivations for pursuing a course within the social sciences was to gain an understanding of the role massive open courses can play in the unique needs of social scientists; the necessity for human engagement, interaction, and observation.

As a student who chose to attend Colgate because faculty make themselves available outside of class, I found it difficult to have no contact with my MOOC professor. I suppose I could have easily gone to the Royal Holloway website and found his contact information; however, the fact that it was not advertised made it seem as though this was not encouraged. Ultimately, the course felt as though there was no human in charge of it. If I had a difficulty, whether technological or intellectual, there was no point person. My only option was the forums. Although this is one of the few online courses I have experienced, it gave me the impression that MOOCs lack structure, which may be ok when all is running smoothly, but becomes troubling when problems arise.

In search of guidance, I entered the forums. The major problem with the forums is best described as the relation between quantity and quality. There are thousands of people taking MOOCs; and because these people have opinions, problems, or are looking for guidance, there are a lot of forum threads. These threads are of varying topics and relevancies, and the problem became how to sort through the hundreds of forum posts to find helpful information.

Another issue I had with the forums was that they stifled free-flowing thought. I believe that many statements of intellectual wealth come out of stream of consciousness and being able to share free thoughts with other people. However, within the forums, because the responses are typed, there is a barrier to some aspects of thought. Because of this, a dichotomy arose. On one hand, there were people who chose to say things with no intellectual basis and made the forums inappropriate rants; on the other hand, there were people who had highly thought-out positions, but who made themselves incomprehensible and seemed closed to differing opinions. There was little middle ground.

Ultimately, my experience with MOOCs does not say that they are impossible to learn from, simply that they are not well suited to all learning styles. A person who can comprehend material with little need for outside aid would be very successful with MOOCs. And as a social scientist who values structure and the intellect of my peers, MOOCs, in their current incarnation, do not fulfill my needs.

Details: Benton Scholars, Online Education Symposium

By Peter Tschirhart on September 15, 2014


As part of a semester-long program to explore online education and its implications for liberal arts institutions, the Benton Scholars are hosting visits from three experts in the field, each of whom will bring a very different perspective to the conversation:

  1. Thursday, Sept. 18 (4:30pm, Lawrence 20): Dr. Fiona Hollands, Columbia University and author of an in-depth study on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), investigates the goals of institutions that are developing and delivering MOOCs, their costs and impact on educational outcomes, and expectations for whether and how this phenomenon may change the landscape of learning over the next few years. The full report is here.
  2. Monday, Oct. 20 (4:30 PM, Lawrence 20): Dr. George Siemens, Director of the Learning Innovation and Networked Knowledge (LINK) Research Lab at the University of Texas in Arlington, has been a pioneer in online education and is author of Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age and Knowing Knowledge. His blog can be found here.
  3. Monday, Oct. 27 (4:30 PM, Persson Auditorium): Dr. Marc Bousquet, Assoc. Prof. Department of English, Emory University, author of How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation, and editor of The Politics of Information; The Electronic mediation of Social Change and Tenured Bosses and Disposable Teachers. His website is here.

We welcome anyone interested in these topics to participate through any of several different venues:

  1. Come to the presentations! There will be ample time for discussion during and after the presentations, and a reception afterward. Times and places are listed above
  2. Listen to the presentations online. They will be livestreamed through the Colgate EdX site. You can sign up here.  The site is open, and has the following resources available:
    1. A list of readings relevant to the seminar by Dr. Hollands.
    2. Discussion questions designed by Dr. Hollands in preparation for the seminar.
    3. An open discussion forum to begin conversations.
  3. Submit questions at any time before or during the presentations by emailing: ols@colgate.edu
  4. Watch the presentations later on our EdX site. They will be archived for later viewing.
  5. Join-in conversations during and after the presentation, also at the EdX site. We invite Colgate students, faculty, and alumni, as well as individuals from our peer institutions, to participate. We hope to generate an ongoing conversation that will benefit everyone.

Please join us as we explore this important issue in higher education today. Should you have any questions, feel free to contact either Karen Harpp or Peter Tschirhart.

Benton Summer Project: Reflections, Part III

By Peter Tschirhart on September 5, 2014

A small group of Benton Scholars took MOOCs during the summer of 2014. Participation was voluntary, and no Colgate course credit was granted. After finishing, we asked each student to write a response capturing their thoughts and reactions to this experience. Selected responses are reproduced below. Please note: the opinions expressed here are those of students–not the Benton Scholars program or Colgate University more generally.

Click here to find out more about the project behind these posts. Click here to learn more about the upcoming Online Education Symposium being sponsored by the Benton Scholars program.

Sid Wadhera ‘17:

The MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) I took this summer through the World Bank, “Risk and Opportunity: Managing Risk for Development,” was very interesting because it functioned very similarly to classes I’ve taken at Colgate University. There was a recommended schedule for students to follow, which basically encompassed readings, video lectures, and then quizzes. The way that it was recommended to us was that the student should read the required text (usually from the World Bank Development Report), watch the accompanying lecture that expanded on the material, and then take the quiz on the material. This is very similar to classes I’ve taken in the Economics, Political Science, and Core departments.

The other thing that really surprised me with the MOOC was the way it worked on student involvement. The MOOC had an interactive blog and various Google Hangouts throughout the time the class was open. The blog functioned very similarly to the Moodle Blog posts that some professors use at Colgate; the Google Hangout effectively became office hours for the individuals we saw in the online lectures. Overall, I think the MOOC process can be very similar to the process of learning in a classroom, if one follows the recommended structure.

Erin Huiting ’17:

My overall impression of the course “Bioinformatics: Life Sciences on Your Computer” [Coursera/Johns Hopkins University] was positive. The professor had engaging lectures — they were relatively short, but very effective — that were accompanied by readings, a discussion, and practice problems. There was also an assignment and quiz each week. The course was five weeks long, so a lot of material was covered! In the end, I learned great computer science skills, as well as information on biological sciences.

I think I had such a positive experience because the course focus was computer science, so I was able to explore databases. The databases allowed me to predict genes, determine structures of molecules, learn about DNA, and so much more. As a result, it was an extremely interactive. Also, this course will be helpful for me in the future because I will be taking cellular biology and inorganic chemistry, which directly relates to molecules and use of databases. In conclusion, I think online courses are very helpful for science, or math courses.

Katrina Bennett ’16:

Overall, I had a positive experience while taking my class, “Genomic Medicine Gets Personal” [edX/Harvard University], but would definitely not recommend it to others over a classroom experience. This class was not my first choice; the class I registered for initially was cancelled at the very last minute, and this was an inconvenience. It was difficult to then have no options or guidance for what else I should take.

In addition, I do not know if it was just the class I was taking, but the lectures and professors seemed very impersonal and rather dry and boring when speaking. This made it very difficult for me to pay attention to exactly what they were saying. As some of the speakers often became boring, I would instead just read the transcripts of their words — and probably miss-out on hearing their delivery. In a classroom setting, I would be forced to listen and get to the professors really well. Overall, I found myself much less engaged and passionate than during a traditional academic class. I was also not as motivated to do well, and not as motivated to take everything I could from the class — and I think it was because I felt so much more removed from the whole setting and learning environment. Even though some of the speakers did seem dry, others seemed immensely interesting, and I missed the ease of being able to go and visit professors during office hours to speak with and learn from them in person.

The biggest advantage I found, though, was the ease with which very interesting professionals could communicate information to a large group of students. In a real classroom setting, it is often difficult for [experts] to visit and give a classroom presentation. However, in the online setting, they could record their lectures at their convenience, and students could listen at their convenience as well. I truly do feel like I learned a great deal about Genomics from people that I would never have had the chance to interact with otherwise.

Viktor Mak ’15:

Having just finished my first online class, I wanted to share some of my observations. I took “Analyzing Global Trends for Business and Society” offered by The Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania. Overall, I found the course to be thought provoking, well-delivered, and well worth my time. But it fell well short of the experience that a Colgate class provides.

I was surprised by how short the lectures were – 6 to 15 minutes each with 6 or 8 lectures per week. I had assumed they would be similar in length to lectures at Colgate. Sometimes the short format did not allow the professor to get into enough depth. As a result, the course covered much less material. The forums were also not that appealing to me. They were un-moderated, and oftentimes, discussions were not rewarding. I did enjoy that the class was synchronous, meaning lectures were released on a weekly basis and had to be watched during that week. This kept me on track to complete the course. The lectures could also be downloaded onto my phone, and I watched most of the class while traveling around on buses in Peru without wifi.

I would recommend this specific course, and online classes in general, to anyone who has free time and interests that they want to explore.

Ryan Hildebrandt ’17:

The format of the course, “The Brain and Space” [Coursera/Duke University], was a weekly series of video lectures that explained the concepts covered in the course and one quiz per week to check understanding of the content. There were 5-10 videos per week, 2-7 minutes long each, and the videos could be watched multiple times. The quizzes had a deadline one week after the release of the related video lectures, and there was a two week grace period after the deadline, during which there would be no penalty for taking the quiz late. Each quiz allowed two tries and would  take the higher score for your grade.

The positive aspects of this course were the regular release of course material and the ability to review the material as much or as little as desired. The course material was easier than I thought it would be, given my limited background in psychology, and it was largely concept based. This meant I was able to watch the videos once and take the quiz within an hour and a half every Monday morning. I was even able to keep up in Korea [while on the Benton Scholars trip] with no problem.

Because of my familiarity with the material, the course progressed slowly for my taste. New material came out once a week in an that could be easily covered in an hour; I would have preferred if the course went a bit faster, maybe two or three material releases per week. That being said, there was a Facebook group for the course, and it seemed that there were an equal number of people struggling with the material as there were comprehending it.

I’d definitely do another online course (and I am in August), although I’ll likely seek out a course with higher-level material or with a faster pace. But that might not be entirely practical with free courses.

Benton Summer Project: Reflections, Part II

By Peter Tschirhart on September 4, 2014

A small group of Benton Scholars took MOOCs during the summer of 2014. Participation was voluntary, and no Colgate course credit was granted. After finishing, we asked each student to write a response capturing their thoughts and reactions to this experience. Selected responses are reproduced below. Please note: the opinions expressed here are those of students–not the Benton Scholars program or Colgate University more generally.

Click here to find out more about the project behind these posts. Click here to learn more about the upcoming Online Education Symposium being sponsored by the Benton Scholars program.

Grace Western ’17:

This summer, I decided to endeavor on a project I never thought I would be active in: the online classroom. My stance on online education had already been formed due to my love of interactive classes full of discussion between professors and students. But I was given the chance to take a course this past summer, and so I thought, “it will only further my current beliefs, or dispel them to help me see the benefits of online education that I had been overlooking.”

I decided to take a course titled, “Tangible Things; Discovering History Through Artworks, Artifacts, Scientific Specimens, and the Stuff Around You,” offered through HarvardEx, because I thought it encompassed a variety of subjects while on the main path of an art history course.

This course greatly disappointed me. It was laid out into 9 topics/sections, which were then further subdivided into compartments on how you would “learn” the material. I watched videos, read articles and documents, virtually explored Harvard’s museums, responded and discussed questions and problems, and then had a self reflection of my completion of the tasks. Though the professors attempted to make the material engaging and intellectually stimulating, most of the time spent for this course seemed mundane. The videos were long and drawn out, the readings, often incredibly lengthy and numerous, were about objects that I struggled to devote an hour or two to reading.

However, the questions posed to the students, which were reflective of our own lives and how they related to what we were learning, were definitely the highlight of the course. By attempting to come up with the best examples, descriptions, and explanations for the questions posed, a very thoughtful and thorough analysis of my life and my surroundings was required. Unfortunately, not all the topics/sections possessed these great questions, which were the redeeming factor for the course. Additionally, this area in particular is where I would have loved feedback from a professor; how to grow and expand an idea, look at it from another perspective, or just receive general feedback. The professors of the course did respond to some students answers on the discussion page, however those were only a couple students, out of the hundreds that took the course. Another downfall is that there was no ability to ask questions to the professors to help further understand the material. Yes, we could email them, but explaining to a student who does not understand something is not often easy, or successful, over the computer.

One of the reasons I am such an advocate for an in-class education is the ability to have someone more experienced and knowledgeable help explain and teach subjects, ideas, theories, and areas that are foreign to you. Furthermore, because of the personal interaction, professors have invested themselves in your education. This just cannot happen online, and this course has further solidified this notion for me.

Allison Zengilowski ‘17:

The process of participating in an online class was an interesting one. The structure of the course I took, “Presumed Innocent? The Social Science of Wrongful Conviction,” consisted of two lessons, including various readings and several interviews, followed by a quiz. I very quickly realized that if I could find a three to four hour time period to block out of my day, I could complete all of the work in one sitting, and typically do better on the quizzes than when I interacted with the material over multiple days.

Although I clearly understand these habits were not conducive for interacting with the material more, and hopefully thus retaining it more, it was easier. I also did not have anyone to speak with about the class, which was rather frustrating. There were online forums, but with thousands of people in the class, it would take far too long to comb through all of the posts. Personally, I prefer being able to interact and have discussions face-to-face. The online forum element was a good alternative, but personally, I did not feel inclined to participate, as most everyone would post things related to themselves rather than conversing back and forth.

What I did like about taking the online class was how the grade was not the main focus. Quizzes could be taken twice with the intent that if I did make a mistake, I could look at the exact question, comb through the text again, and find the correct response. This did make me learn more, especially things I, clearly, did not have a firm grasp on the first time around. Rather than merely placing an exam in one of my notebooks after receiving a decent grade, I was motivated to go back and physically correct my mistakes. In the online class setting, it was clear that learning was the goal. I appreciated the stress-free environment of learning for the sake of it. I wish this attitude could be transferred into a classroom setting here at Colgate.

First All-Benton Dinner of the Year

By mkeller on September 3, 2014

The Benton Scholars program kicked off the new school year last Thursday with an All-Benton Dinner at Alana Cultural Center. Members from all class years attended this event, along with members from the greater Colgate community, including Peter Tschirhart, Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Scholars Program; Professor Karen Harpp, Benton Scholars Faculty Director; Dean Kim Germain from the Office of Fellowships; Kara Bingham from the Office of Off-Campus Study; Thad Mantaro from the Shaw Wellness Institute; and Michael Sciola, Director of Career Services.

Attendees from the All-Benton Dinner

Attendees from the All-Benton Dinner

All-Benton Dinners are well attended, giving students a chance to meet the new class of Benton Scholars and reconnect with other students returning from semesters abroad.

Professor Karen Harpp discusses with students

Professor Karen Harpp discusses the upcoming year.

Members of all class years interact with one another

Members of all class years interact with one another

Dinner Time!

Dinner Time!

Dinner Discussions

Dinner Discussions


Benton Summer Project: Reflections, Part I

By Peter Tschirhart on September 2, 2014

A small group of Benton Scholars took MOOCs during the summer of 2014. Participation was voluntary, and no Colgate course credit was granted. After finishing, we asked each student to write a response capturing their thoughts and reactions to this experience. Selected responses are reproduced below. Please note: the opinions expressed here are those of students–not the Benton Scholars program or Colgate University more generally.

Click here to find out more about the project behind these posts. Click here to learn more about the upcoming Online Education Symposium being sponsored by the Benton Scholars program.

Ellen Rodowsky ’15:

I had never taken an online class prior to this summer, so I didn’t exactly know what to expect. I’m admittedly skeptical about the idea of an online platform replacing legitimate classrooms and real-time contact with professors and other students, but I can’t deny that I was extremely impressed by the variety of courses available for free online. After much debating, I enrolled in a course called “Representaciones Culturales de las Sexualidades”(Cultural Representations of the Sexualities) offered by the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.

The structure of the course seemed pretty straightforward: four weeks, four different topics presented via powerpoints and reading assignments, one short quiz on each topic, and an 800-word essay that would be graded by our fellow classmates. There were also forums available for students who wanted to expand upon topics that were touched on during the lectures. The lectures covered a lot of material very rapidly; at times it was almost overwhelming how quickly we moved through complex topics. The idea that “the body is a representation of the body, and can be interpreted as a text” was covered in 10 minutes — I can’t even imagine how long that point would be discussed in a Women’s Studies class at Colgate! The benefit to a video/powerpoint style of class, on the other hand, was that I could take as much time as I needed to make sure I understood a concept before continuing on with the lecture. I could pause and replay a portion if I didn’t grasp the full meaning the first time around, or I could stop and look up a concept on Google if I wasn’t satisfied with how it was presented by the professor.

Despite the benefits to a video-style lecture, my most adamant criticism of online classes (or at least, of this online class) was the lack of critical and in-depth discussion. The forums, although they aim to create a space for class-wide discussions, fall markedly short of achieving this. In classes, if a student asks a question, at the very least one student or the professor will respond. Additionally, if an argument or heated debate breaks out during class, I believe there are a lot of skills that students must use to respond respectfully in that moment. Online, these types of discussions do not happen; many questions had zero responses posted, and although none of the forums I read had very heavy debates, I think the anonymity that comes with posting online to strangers and the ability to simply stop answering does not foster the same kind of environment as a classroom.

I would have much preferred to study this topic in a classroom setting, but that’s not to say that I am opposed to all online education. I very much enjoy in-class discussions and talking about complex issues with my classmates, but for some classes I can see how it might be preferable to do them at one’s own pace. Introductory classes, for example, might be a better place for an online course. Lectures can be slowed down and repeated as many times as possible, so what would be a 150+ person, one-speed-fits-all class becomes more accessible to people who may need to hear things repeated multiple times. Some of my friends whose universities offer online courses say their schools try to better bridge the divide between online courses and full-time student life. Their online classes include one or two in-person meetings, where students can discuss material that has been covered in the class and ask questions of the professor that may be complicated to address through computers. It is undeniable that online education is gaining popularity (largely due to its cost versus costs of college tuition) and legitimacy, but I believe that for them to be truly successful they must learn how to fill the space left by removing the physical, real-time discussions.

Jungmin Kang ‘16:

For my summer project, I decided to take a German language class. However, when I arrived at the place I was to do my [summer] internship, I realized I did not have a stable internet connection. But I was able to find the youtube version of the lecture videos and download them at the office where I worked. It was an interesting observation – that online lectures do not necessitate a continual internet connection, but rather only enough to get the videos loaded onto a device. Of course, this means there may be limited or no interaction between the maker of the video and the student, or between students. For my German classes, though, I didn’t find this to be a problem, as the largest component of understanding the videos was just me sitting in front of the computer repeating the phrases and trying to get the pronunciation right.

Another thing I noticed was that, since I had all the videos downloaded and in one place, I could view any number of them at one time. There were days when I went through several, but then periods of many days when I didn’t see even one. For a language, I found this a little problematic, because on several occasions after these long pauses I had to go back to previous videos to review basics that I probably would have remembered had I not taken such breaks. However, the fact that this going-back-to-review process was possible and easy says something, I think. Also, it was nice that when I felt into it I could go as far as I liked. It was motivating and exciting to know that my educational intake was not being limited by an external force. Of course, in reality, there were limitations (my limited time, having only certain videos and therefore content to choose from, etc.), but there was an illusion of freedom that was nice. I’m not saying this is totally different from what is possible with a conventional medium such as a book (I can read as much of a textbook as I like), but knowing there was not someone who would be verifying that I had done a minimum amount of learning was liberating.