Analytics can raise success rates

Data mining and analytics technology can help colleges graduate more students, said Mark Milliron, co-founder of Civitas Learning, in a keynote speech at the Blended Learning Conference in Denver. But colleges need to get the right data to the right people in the right way, said Milliron, whose experience includes Western Governors University and the Gates Foundation.

The problem is actually getting student learning data to the front lines where faculty can use it to test innovations, create interventions and predict actions such as likelihood of course completion and graduation. Too often, colleges focus so much on accountability analytics that they hamstring their ability to get data to faculty.

If faculty, advisers and students have access to learning data, they can make more informed decisions.

Colleges are using technology in different ways to help students stay on track to finish their degree, writes Tanya Roscorla for the Center for Digital Education.

Austin Community College‘s Degree Map application shows students how they’re progressing toward a degree, which courses they need to take next and how costly it would be in time and money to switch degrees. It also predicts when students choose “toxic” course combinations with a high risk of failure.

At El Paso Community College, an app allows students to choose an academic goal, such as earning a 3.5 grade point average, and then track their progress toward meeting the goal.

University of Texas at Austin students created a Facebook app called for large lecture classes. Students use the app to ask questions, which are answered by five or six high achievers known as “owls.” Professors can look at students’ questions to see what issues need to be addressed.

Colleges also are analyzing data to redesign courses, writes Roscorla. Colorado Community Colleges combined remedial reading and writing to streamline developmental requirements. Students who score the lowest on placement tests now receive extra academic support.

Does Khan help remedial math students?

Can Khan Academy help community college students learn algebra? With a $3 million U.S. Department of Education grant, WestEd will evaluate the effectiveness of Khan Academy’s resources for developmental math students at 36 California community colleges.

Khan Academy is a free, Internet-based learning environment that includes instructional videos, adaptive problem sets, and tools for teachers to use in providing individualized coaching and assignments to students.

. . . “Until now, there has never been a rigorous, large-scale efficacy study of Khan Academy, in community colleges or in K-12 settings,” says STEM Program Director Steve Schneider.

Algebra I instructors with no Khan experience will be randomly assigned to integrate Khan videos and problem sets into their normal classroom activities or to teach as usual. Comparing Khan-aided students to the control group, researchers will evaluate whether using Khan resources affects persistence and achievement. In addition, they’ll analyze what factors, such as teacher preparation, student characteristics and course structure, improve effectiveness.

A recent SRI study looks at how K-12 schools use Khan to teach math, notes EdSurge.

Founded by Salman Khan, who started out tutoring his cousins’ children in math, the nonprofit now offers 6,000 instructional videos and 100,000 practice problems in math, biology, physics, chemistry, economics, and more, reports Inside Philanthropy. Some 350,000 teachers also use the videos as classroom aids.

‘Flipped’ engineering boosts pass rates

Flipping” and “blending” a San Jose State engineering class has worked so well that most California State University campuses are expected to partner with edX on similar courses in the fall, reports the San Jose Mercury News. San Jose State will expand the model to humanities, business and science courses.

Eighty randomly selected students in an entry-level engineering course watched online lectures from MIT (the flip), while solving problems in class, with the professor’s help (the blend).  Ninety-one percent of the flipped students passed the class. Only 55 and 59 percent of non-flipped students passed. .

“Five hundred years ago we gave them a textbook, and in 1862 we gave them chalk,” said Anant Agarwal, president of edX. “What tools have we given them since then? Please don’t say PowerPoint.”

In-class problem solving is more effective, said SJSU President Mo Qayoumi. However, the new format requires a lot more time from students and instructors.

The online videos and quizzes can take 10 to 12 hours a week to watch and complete, far more than expected in the traditional format. In addition, (Professor Khosrow) Ghadiri said he and his teaching assistants spend a combined 80 hours a week on the class, preparing materials, checking students’ progress and sending them emails when they fall behind.

Students who put in the work have a very good shot of taking the class only once. And if the 91 percent pass rate holds, the engineering department won’t have to provide all those seats for two-timing students.

California’s community colleges and state universities are looking to online learning to shorten wait lists. The state Legislature is considering a bill to require public colleges and universities to accept online credits if students can’t get into conventional classes.

California pilots $150 online courses

For $150 per online course, California students will be able to earn college credit as part of a partnership between San Jose State University and Udacity, a Silicon Valley MOOC start-up, reports the New York Times. Remedial algebra, college algebra and introductory statistics will be the first courses offered.

The pilot won’t be massive:  It will be limited to 300 students from San Jose State, local community colleges and nearby high schools. San Jose State professors will design the courses, which will include interactive quizzes. Udacity will provide the platform and the support services, such as online mentors.

Ellen N. Junn, provost and vice president for academic affairs at the university in San Jose, said the California State University System faces a crisis because more than 50 percent of entering students cannot meet basic requirements.

“They graduate from high school, but they cannot pass our elementary math and English placement tests,” she said.

California Gov. Jerry Brown kicked off the partnership with a phone call to Sebastian Thrun, one of Udacity’s founders.  Brown hopes low-cost online courses will lower costs and speed graduation for thousands of California students who now have trouble getting into the classes they need.

EdX, a MIT-Harvard collaboration, will begin offering “blended” classes at  two Massachusetts community colleges this month, reports the Times.

Recently edX completed a pilot offering of its difficult circuits and electronics course at San Jose State to stunning results: while 40 percent of the students in the traditional version of the class got a grade of C or lower, only 9 percent in the blended edX class got such a low grade.

Unlike the blended class, the Udacity pilot will require students to work entirely online.

If student success rates are high in the pilot courses, the $150 courses could be opened to high school and community collegestudents across the country by this summer, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

It’s not a sure thing, said Thrun at the press conference. “There’s a big if here because we are very skeptical ourselves whether this actually works,” he said. “We set it up as an experiment of scale, but we don’t know if this is a viable path to education.”

“Failure is the precursor for success,” said Brown, vowing to learn from setbacks.

“I hope this will be such a game-changer,” said Mo Qayoumi, San Jose State’s president.

Online outreach has boosted retention rates for online courses offered by the University of Georgia’s eCore, reports Education Sector.

Boston colleges will ‘blend’ with edX

Two Boston community colleges will partner with edX, Harvard and MIT’s online learning venture, on a “blended” class, reports the Harvard Crimson.

Beginning in spring, Bunker Hill Community College in Charlestown and MassBay Community College’s greater Boston campuses will offer a modified version of edX’s “Introduction to Computer Science and Programming,” an online class based on MIT’s introductory computer science course.

Community college professors will provide classroom instruction and support, while three MIT professors will teach the online course.

The Gates Foundation is supporting the collaboration with a million-dollar grant.

“At the end of the day, the purely online experience doesn’t capture the in-person interaction that we all care about,” said Anant Agarwal, edX president and an MIT professor.

EdX currently offers nine online courses open to hundreds of thousands of students around the world.  Agarwal plans to offer more blended courses, particularly at community colleges.

‘Open’ classes build confidence, success

Britain’s Open University, which offers free online Open Learn classes to all comers, is being imported to the U.S. to help “ill-prepared, self-conscious” students adapt to college work, according to the Hechinger Report.

Students placed into low-level reading, writing or math — especially math — rarely succeed, researchers have found. Most give up.

“You take a student who doesn’t have a lot of self-confidence, you give them a placement test, and you tell them they have to take three semesters of math—that’s pretty de-motivating,” said Josh Jarrett, a former software entrepreneur who heads the postsecondary-education program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

. . . The foundation, through a collaborative, multi-year initiative called Next Generation Learning Challenges, has invested $750,000 to adapt two free Open University, at-your-own-pace online courses for use at about a dozen U.S. colleges and universities this academic year: one meant to make students comfortable with math so they do better on placement tests or move more quickly through remedial courses, and another to teach them study skills and other things they’ll need to know to be ready for college.

“Nothing succeeds like success, and in mathematics—especially developmental mathematics—getting the students to understand they really can be successful, that’s the most important step,” said Daniel Symancyk, a math professor and dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Anne Arundel (Community College), one of the places where the pilot program is being tested as part of Anne Arundel’s goal of doubling its number of graduates by 2020.

In Britain, students are building confidence in free OpenLearn courses, then moving on to earn degrees, says Patrick McAndrew, Open University’s associate director for learning and teaching. Low-income students who start in Open Learn are more likely to complete a degree.

The university has been a pioneer in distance learning since its first students were enrolled 40 years ago. Inspired by an American series of radio lectures, OU delivered its first classes on black-and-white television. Today it’s the largest university in Britain, with 195,000 students—and a quarter of a million worldwide—and more than 5,000 faculty and staff who develop and manage the university’s more than 750 nine-month online courses and all of their related multimedia components, from podcasts to chat-rooms.

Most OU students are working adults. The median age is 31. Many are “scared” of college, said George Marsh, head of the university’s Centre for Inclusion and Curriculum. Free online classes can give “students a taste of being good students and competent students and confident students.”

Online courses are more challenging for community college students, according to a Washington state study by the Community College Research Center. Online students were more likely to drop out than those who took the same courses in conventional classrooms.

“There’s really no substitute for having a good teacher who is personable and can help students overcome some of that anxiety,” said Symancyk, the dean at Anne Arundel. “There are plenty of math books in libraries and people can go and read them, but it’s not the same. When you’ve got a good teacher who’s sensitive to the needs of the students, it can help people overcome their fears. So I think the challenge of these materials will be to do that.”

Jarrett agreed that there’s “a healthy skepticism and, in some cases, an outright resistance” to providing education online. “I think that’s a product of some early efforts of online education overpromising and under-delivering.”

“Blended learning,” which combines face-to-face and online learning, is “what most people think is the path of the future,” Jarrett said.

CCs can’t meet demand for online classes

Online education is booming at community colleges, according to a survey by the Instructional Technology Council, which is affiliated with the American Association of Community Colleges. Enrollment in online courses grew by 9 percent from fall 2009 to fall 2010, outpacing the eight percent growth in community college enrollment.  Sixty-eight percent of colleges can’t offer enough online courses to meet student demand.

The survey noted a small shift from all-online classes to blended learning: 65 percent of respondents offer completely online classes—down from 75 percent last year, while 21 percent offer blended/hybrid courses—up from 15 percent last year. In addition, four percent offer live interactive video courses—up one percent from last year.

Full-time faculty teach 64 percent of distance education classes, a similar ratio to past surveys that “aligns with the historic full-time/part-time faculty percentages for face-to-face classes at most community colleges,” ITC reports.  Finding qualified online faculty is a problem, many colleges report.

Online administrators increasingly report the need to better prepare students for online instruction through structured orientations and computer skills assessment.

Administrators also emphasize the need to improve overall student course retention and student persistence rates. Assessment of online instruction and adequate technical support remain important.

Completion rates for online students lag behind rates for students in traditional classes, notes Inside Higher Ed.  However, the gap is small:  69 percent compared to 75 percent.

Next Gen Learning lists finalists

Gates Foundation’s Next Generation Learning Challenge has announced 47 finalists for $20 million in grants. Wave 1 included blended learning projects, “learning analytics” (use of data to track students’ learning needs), open-core courseware and “deeper learner engagement.” Many of the finalists focused on improving developmental math instruction.

The “learning moment” is key, said Mark David Milliron, deputy director for higher education at the Gates Foundation, at the the 2011 Higher Ed Tech Summit in Las Vegas. “At the instructional level, that’s when you really can begin to use those data to innovate.”

About 60 percent of finalists are expected to be awarded grants in March.