MOOC completion rates aren’t all that low

MOOC completion rates aren’t all that low, writes Kevin Carey on EdCentral.

Massive Open Online Courses have puny completion rates, according to a Penn study of 16 Coursera MOOCS. Only 4 percent made it to the end.

That’s misleading, Carey counters. That four percent appears to be the percent of “registrants” who finished the course; it includes people who never logged on and those who logged on and immediately dropped out.

For example, Penn’s “Mythology” MOOC attracted about 15,000 registrants who never started, 20,000 starters who immediately stopped and 25,000 active users. “Nearly 60 percent of the people the study reported as not finishing the course never tried to finish,” writes Carey.

Of 25,000 active users, only 1,350 completed the course. That’s not much, Carey concedes. But it’s very close to the percentage of Penn applicants who complete a degree.

Anyone can sign up for a Coursera course, just as anyone can apply to Penn.

Last year, 31,218 students applied to Penn. Thirteen percent were admitted, and 63 percent of those students enrolled. In other words, Penn had (or will have) roughly: 27,200 Applicants who were not admitted 1,500 Admittants who did not enroll 330 Enrollees who did not graduate 2,200 Graduates Or, to put it another way, about seven percent of all students who “signed up” for the University of Pennsylvania by submitting an application end up graduating four years later, which is almost precisely the same as the percentage of Active Users who completed a MOOC in the study held up as evidence that MOOCs don’t work very well.

Penn doesn’t admit the less capable, less motivated applicants, writes Carey. Coursera lets everyone try.

Applying to Penn takes effort and money, while signing up for Coursera takes 30 seconds and is free.

An apples-to-apples comparison would probably include everyone who requested a Penn application, or logged onto registrar’s website, but didn’t complete an application. That number would be substantially larger than 31,218, and drive the graduation ratio down further still.

Nearly all Penn undergrads are full-time students who’ve invested a lot of money in their degree, so they’re highly motivated to finish. “Coursera students come in all ages and nationalities and many already have college degrees,” Carey writes. They’ve invested no money, so they can quit without penalty.

The Penn study concludes the 16 MOOCS have “few active users” and that “few” students persist to the end. But Mythology drew 25,000 active users, which is more than twice the number of Penn undergrads, Carey points out. The 1,350 who finished represent a huge increase in Mythology completers.  “The researchers could have taken exactly the same data and issued a report finding that ‘MOOCs achieve ten-fold increase in course completers for Ivy League class, at zero cost to students’.”

After suspending its MOOC trial for a semester, San Jose State will offer three online courses  developed with Udacity in the spring. The online versions of Elementary Statistics, Introduction to Programming and General Psychology won’t be massive or open. Class size will be limited and only California State University students will be eligible.

It’s time for a smarter (and cheaper) sheepskin

High-tech start-ups are retooling college instruction, writes venture capitalist Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, in The New Republic. We need to “make certification faster, cheaper and more effective too,” he writes.

. . . a diploma is essentially a communications device that signals a person’s readiness for certain jobs.

But unfortunately it’s a dumb, static communication device with roots in the 12th century.

We need to . . .  turn it into a richer, updateable, more connected record of a person’s skills, expertise, and experience. And then we need to take that record and make it part of a fully networked certification platform.

There’s a lot more to college than earning a diploma, responds Michael Gibson, who works for the anti-college Thief Foundation, in Forbes. To lower the debt to party ratio, we need to consider “all the friendships formed at school, the esprit de campus, all the networks.” What about beer pong?

College consists of: the clock tower, the stadium, the frat/sorority house and the admissions office, Gibson writes.

Taken together this is like an awful cable TV package. To get HBO, you also need to pay high prices for all those unwatchable stations like the Hallmark Channel. The future of higher education will involve unbundling this package and offering cheaper, higher quality substitutes.

The clock tower represents the amount of time spent studying a subject.

 Classes are measured in hours per week; exams are given in hour length chunks; and students need some requisite number of hours in any subject to signal mastery. It is remarkable that we still use the hour as a substitute measure for learning to this day.

. . .  we are on the cusp of having the technology to unbundle and decentralize this piece of the college puzzle. Coursera, Udacity, and other massively open online courses are only getting started in their effort to demolish the clock tower and provide the customized certification Reid Hoffman describes. What the fireplace, another medieval invention, is to the cold, the clock tower is to learning: proximity used to matter. And now it doesn’t. Central heating is better.

The stadium represents the tribal experience, which is very important to alumni. The frat house represents the friendships that lead to future networking. The admissions office confers status. These will be harder to replace than the clock tower, writes Gibson.

In the near future, the residential college experience will become a luxury item, I predict. Most people will decide it makes more sense to hang out with their friends, play beer pong, root for a professional football team and earn a low-cost career credential.

Confused? Your computer may sense it

Computers can monitor students’ facial expressions and evaluate their engagement or frustration, according to North Carolina State researchers. That could help teachers track students’ understanding in real time, notes MIT Technology Review.

Perhaps it could even help massively open online courses (or MOOCs), which can involve many thousands of students working remotely, to be more attuned to students’ needs.

It also hints at what could prove to be a broader revolution in the application of emotion-sensing technology. Computers and other devices that identify and respond to emotion—a field of research known as “affective computing”—are starting to emerge from academia. They sense emotion in various ways; some measure skin conductance, while others assess voice tone or facial expressions.

The NC State experiment involved college students who were using JavaTutor software to learn to write code. The monitoring software’s conclusions about students’ state of mind matched their self reports closely.

“Udacity and Coursera have on the order of a million students, and I imagine some fraction of them could be persuaded to turn their webcams on,” says Jacob Whitehill, who works at Emotient, a startup exploring commercial uses of affective computing. “I think you would learn a lot about what parts of a lecture are working and what parts are not, and where students are getting confused.”

MOOC mania may be slowing

“As scores of colleges rush to offer free online classes, the mania over massive open online courses may be slowing down,” reports Ry Rivard on Inside Higher Ed.

Even MOOC boosters, such as Dan Greenstein, head of postsecondary success at the Gates Foundation, wonders if MOOCs are a “viable thing or are just a passing fad.”

The American Council on Education has recommended credit for eight MOOCs, four by Coursera and four by Udacity. But ACE President Molly Corbett Broad said, “Now is the time for us to step back and do what all of us at universities are the best at doing: criticizing or evaluating or recommending changes or improvements – or some will choose to walk away from this strategy altogether.”

Not a single MOOC passer has applied for credit at Colorado State University-Global Campus, the first college to offer college credit, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.  MOOC students could earn credit for $89, the cost of the required proctored exam, instead of paying $1,050 for a comparable three-credit CSU course.

The offer, made nearly a year ago, applied only to a single MOOC, in computer science. Students may have decided the credits would be useful only if they intended to finish their degrees at Global Campus.

However, the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning‘s Learning Counts, which uses prior-learning assessment to help adults turn off-campus learning into college credit, also is waiting for its first MOOC student.

MOOC providers say many who register for free online courses already have earned college degrees.

Lawmakers in California and Florida drafted bills aimed at making state universities give credit to students who pass certain MOOCs, notes the Chronicle.

But it remains to be seen how common it will be for college students in those states to get credit for MOOCs. Florida last week enacted a milder version of the original bill proposed there; the new law calls for “rules that enable students to earn academic credit for online courses, including massive open online courses, prior to initial enrollment at a postsecondary institution.”

The California bill has undergone a number of revisions, including language that would give university faculty members greater oversight of which MOOCs might be worthy of credit. That bill remains in committee.

Colleges and universities may be willing to integrate MOOCs into traditional, tuition-based courses, but resist “granting credit to students who take a free-floating MOOC,” concludes the Chronicle.

No room in class? Earn credits online

California college students could bypass wait lists and earn credits online under a bill introduced by State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, reports the Oakland Tribune. “This is not technology for technology’s sake. It addresses a real challenge.”

State colleges and universities would be required to accept credits from faculty-approved online courses for about 50 high-demand, lower-level classes with long wait lists. The access problem is especially acute at community colleges: More than three-quarters are putting students on wait lists.

“For a long time students have really suffered from a lack of access to the courses they needed to succeed,” said Rich Copenhagen, president of the Student Senate for California Community Colleges.

The bill would help the many students who end up taking frivolous courses just to keep their full-time status and financial aid, backers say.

Still the move will ease pressure to provide more funding to hire instructors and add classes.

Faculty would decide which online courses would provide credit, notes Inside Higher Ed.

Likely participants include Udacity and Coursera, two major massive open online course providers, sources said. Another option might be StraighterLine, a low-cost, self-paced online course company.

Those online providers are not accredited and cannot directly issue credit. But the American Council on Education (ACE) offers credit recommendations for successfully completed StraighterLine courses and is currently reviewing MOOCs for credit recommendations, with five from Coursera already gaining approval. Potentially credit-bearing MOOCs will likely include efforts to verify students’ identities and proctored exams.

“A source familiar with the bill said it would require online providers to charge no more than the tuition rates of the colleges students attend,” reports Inside Higher Ed. At California community colleges, that would be $140 per three-credit course, though many students qualify for fee waivers.

ACE certifies five Coursera MOOCs

Some Coursera students may get college credit for massive online open courses, reports Information Week. The American Council on Education (ACE) has certified five MOOCs taught by university professors: Pre-Calculus and Algebra (University of California at Irvine), Introduction to Genetics and Evolution and Bioelectricity: A Quantitative Approach (Duke) and Calculus: A Single Variable (Penn). The algebra course is for developmental students; the rest merit college credit, ACE decided.

So far, even Duke, Penn and Irvine don’t plan to award credit for their own professors’ MOOCs, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Penn students who take the calculus MOOC and pass a department exam can move on to a higher-level course, but don’t receive credit.

Duke Provost Peter Lange said his school won’t award credit to its own students or to others who enroll in its Bioelectricity and Genetics classes online, two of the Coursera options that ACE has recommended for credit. Though the classes are led by Duke professors, he said, “they’re not taught the way we teach Duke courses” because they don’t have a set meeting time, nor do they involve face-to-face instruction.

While college administrators say it’s hard to verify what MOOC students have learned, elite universities “have a major financial incentive to limit academic credit only to registered, paying students—and not those following along free online,” notes the Journal. “Undergraduate tuition and required fees at Duke and Penn top $40,000 this school year, while out-of-state students pay nearly $37,000 at Irvine.”

At community colleges, where tuition is heavily subsidized, awarding credits to MOOC students could cut costs and open up classroom seats for students who prefer a face-to-face education.

MOOC-ing the college cartel

Online learning will revolutionize higher education and liberate students from ever-rising college costs, predicts Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy, in an interview with MIT Technology Review.

Here’s what I think it could look like in five years: the learning side will be free, but if and when you want to prove what you know, and get a credential, you would go to a proctoring center [for an exam]. And that would cost something. Let’s say it costs $100 to administer that exam. I could see charging $150 for it. And then you have a $50 margin that you can reinvest on the free-learning side.

 Khan has a book out called The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined,

What’s a credit worth? Moves to give credits to students for taking massive open online courses (MOOCS) or demonstrating competency are threatening the college cartel, writes Jeff Selingo on The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The American Council on Education will review some free online courses offered by elite universities through Coursera and may recommend that other colleges accept credit for them.

Right now, it is easy for most institutions to deny students who ask to transfer credits from their local community college or a for-profit provider, such as StraighterLine. They just say the quality is not up their standards.

But what happens when students arrive at the registrars’ office with credit-bearing courses from professors at Stanford, Penn, and Princeton? What will the excuse be then to reject the credits—that the courses were free? Such an excuse might finally expose the true reason many colleges refuse to accept transfer credits: They want students to pay them tuition for a class, not another institution.

In addition, Southern New Hampshire University’s accreditor has approved its new competency-based associate degree, which is based on students’ knowledge rather than time in class. Students will pay no more than $2,500 a year. The university is working with local employers to design the curriculum.

Western Governors University pioneered the idea. Now, “Southern New Hampshire is about to show whether the idea can work within the walls of a traditional university,” Selingo writes. Northern Arizona University and the University of Wisconsin system also are developing competency-based degrees.

UW’s Flexible Option will let adult students “earn college credit by demonstrating knowledge they have acquired through coursework, military training, on-the-job training, and other learning experiences.”

College for $30 a month

All-You-Can-Eat-Education for $30 a Month

Via OnlineUniversities.com