Online learning reveals generation gap

MOOC enthusiasts should consider a Community College Research Center survey that found many college students want “in-person discussion and on-the-spot feedback,” writes Mandy Zatynski on The Quick and the Ed. There’s a generational divide in online learning separating young students from those 30 and older, she writes.

. . . my brother and I are galaxies apart in terms of technology, even though he’s only six years younger. He has never known a world without computers, while I still remember the awe of searching on the Internet for the first time. He reads news from a screen; I flip through the Sunday paper. In college, he learned on computers in campus labs; I bought textbooks and highlighted relevant passages. I can’t reach my brother by calling him, but if I send a text message, my phone will buzz with an immediate reply.

She sides with the community college students who want to go to brick-and-mortar classrooms, listen to a live human being and ask questions in real-time. But the rising generation of students may prefer the convenience of an online course.

In the survey, students said they were more likely to take “easy” courses online – meaning ones they could teach themselves – but preferred a face-to-face environment for more complicated courses, such as science and foreign language. This speaks to a growing need to move general education curricula online, much like the University System of Georgia does with eCore. Students there can take the first two years of their four-year degree online, before moving into classes on campus required for their major. If more universities moved in this direction, it could streamline articulation agreements and transfer processes for students, ensuring that they wouldn’t lose credit if they decided to switch institutions—as many college students do.

The future of higher education is more likely to blend online and face-to-face coursework than to go all MOOC, Zatynski predicts.

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.