San Jose State, Udacity rethink MOOC pilot

San Jose State and Udacity have put their low-cost, for-credit MOOC experiment on hold for a semester because of high failure rates, reports the Los Angeles Times. In the spring pilot, pass rates ranged from 29 percent in remedial math to 44 percent in college-level algebra and 51 percent in elementary statistics. There was one encouraging sign: 83 percent of students completed the classes.

Udacity, a private Silicon Valley education group, and San Jose State will study ways to improve the classes.

“The improvements we are considering include developing introductory materials that will help students prepare for and engage in college-level online classes. We would also like to look at the impact of the frequency of quizzes for grades and other similar incentives to help students move through the material in a timely manner. Another focus will be to explore opportunities to move to open-registration, self-paced classes with student-set deadlines.”

Students in the summer courses received more orientation and appear to be doing better.

Only half of Udacity students were enrolled in San Jose State and some had flunked remedial math earlier, reports Inside Higher Ed. Some were inner-city high school students who turned out to lack access to computers and community college students. “We stacked the deck against ourselves,” said Provost Ellen Junn.

Typically, online courses work best for mature, disciplined, competent students, which suggests that MOOCs aren’t likely to work well for high school kids and remedial students.

Students said they needed more time, Udacity CEO Sebastian Thrun tells MIT Technology Review.