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.
Javier Cabral made it through high school without passing algebra, but hit a wall in community college, he writes in Zócalo Public Square. He failed algebra seven times in 4 1/2 years at Pasadena City College and, finally, dropped out to pursue a writing career.
I coasted through middle school arithmetic classes, and, in high school pre-algebra, when math bit me in the rear, I bit back and weaseled my way to a C by teaching my teacher—who was having troubles with his wife at the time—how to play “Angel Baby” on the acoustic guitar. Geometry came next, and I passed with no trouble.
Fast forward to my still Algebra-less senior year in high school. Without a passing grade in algebra, I couldn’t graduate—but I got lucky again. Apparently, my problem with algebra was shared by many other students and posed a threat to the pristine record of my “California Distinguished” high school. The administrators decided to count Accounting I as an algebra equivalent. I passed that with a B+.
He hoped to transfer from PCC to a four-year institution, but was placed two classes below the transfer requirement class, Statistics 50. He failed. Eventually, Cabral was diagnosed with a math disability, which got him extra time on tests. That didn’t help. He tried computer-based pre-algebra and failed that. Finally, his counselor told him about an intensive new class, Exploring Topics in Mathematics, which would teach “quantitative literacy.” If he passed, he’d be eligible for transfer-level Statistics 50.
Before long, going to class started to feel like a family reunion. It was, dare I say it, fun. Everybody shared the pain, and there was a relieving sense of acceptance. (Professor Jay) Cho taught us how to complete linear equation problems, something that used to give me headaches, by relating them to blood alcohol levels when you drink and drive. (It worked. I got a B on that exam.) He used the almost-daily tardiness of the Goth girl to teach us relative frequency approximation of probability. I loved it. It was a modern-day version of Stand and Deliver.
Twenty of the 35 students passed the class, a high success rate for a developmental class. Cabral passed! Then he failed Statistics 50, also taught by Cho.
“Math is becoming a filter for a lot of people,” Cho told me recently. “Structurally, we are designed to lose a lot of students. The state gives us a lot of money for nothing. Returning students are forced to retake the class and shut out valuable space for new students.” In Cho’s view, his new teaching style addresses the problem. In my view, Cho’s an amazing teacher, but not a miracle worker.
Cabral doesn’t believe he’ll ever be able to solve quadratic equations, no matter how hard he tries. He wants to go to a university to “learn more about art, philosophy, literature, and history,” he writes. “Math requirements will prevent that. Should they?”
California’s plan to substitute MOOCs for entry-level community college classes is a “massively bad idea,” argues Rob Jenkins, an English professor at Georgia Perimeter College in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Under a bill in the Legislature, students shut out of entry-level, high-demand classes could take approved online courses — including MOOCs, or massive open online courses – offered by private providers.
Many community college students are poorly prepared for college work, writes Jenkins. Graduation rates are low. Those who enroll in online courses have lower completion rates than similar students in face-to-face courses, according to studies in Washington state and Virginia by the Community College Research Center at Columbia.
. . . listen to the sobering conclusion of the Virginia study: “Regardless of their initial level of preparation … students were more likely to fail or withdraw from online courses than from face-to-face courses. In addition, students who took online coursework in early semesters were slightly less likely to return to school in subsequent semesters, and students who took a higher proportion of credits online were slightly less likely to attain an educational award or transfer to a four-year institution.”
“Succeeding in online classes requires an extraordinary degree of organization, self-discipline, motivation, and time-management skill,” writes Jenkins. In particular, MOOCs work best for students with a record of success in traditional learning environments. ”In other words, not community-college students.”
Furthermore, the most successful MOOCs have been high-level math and computation classes, not entry-level courses.
. . . California’s plan (or to be fair, one senator’s plan) is basically to dump hundreds of thousands of the state’s least-prepared and least-motivated students into a learning environment that requires the greatest amount of preparation and motivation, where they will take courses that may or may not be effective in that format.
“Students will fail and drop out at astronomical rates,” predicts Jenkins.
Not surprisingly, faculty leaders in all three tiers of California’s higher education system strongly oppose outsourcing courses to online providers.
Twenty-eight percent of first-time students at five community colleges didn’t return for the second semester, concludes a 2005-06 study by the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia. Most never attended college again.
Early dropouts are older and less prepared academically than students who came back for another semester, according to Characteristics of Early Community College Dropouts. Early dropouts failed or withdrew from more than 60 percent of their courses and did especially poorly in remedial course.
Introductory math and English courses are gatekeepers at community colleges: Many students don’t make it through. But via other introductory courses are “obstacle courses” that can block completion, according to a new study by Matthew Zeidenberg, Davis Jenkins and Marc Scott if Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia.
. . . if colleges want to increase students’ chances of earning a credential, they will need to pay attention to student performance in a broader set of courses beyond simply college math and English. They should also rethink college remediation or developmental instruction, which tends to focus on math and English and not on other obstacle courses.
“Obstacle courses” include: College Success Skills, Introduction to Computer Applications and Concepts, History of Western Civilization I , Introduction to Business, Principles of Accounting I and Beginning Spanish I.
A student’s overall grade point average — not the grade in any particular course — was the best predictor of success or failure.
Eliana Osborn has a hard-working, competent, front-row student who’s taking the English class for the fifth time, she writes on The Two-Year Track.
She’s learned from her many failures and seems to be doing things right on Attempt 5. I respect that. I’m not cutting her any breaks, but she doesn’t need them. She’s learned about herself and how to be a good student. I asked her why she keeps coming and trying after so many disappointing semesters.
“I have to do this,” she told me with steely eyes. “I don’t have a choice. I have to get an education for my family.”
Teaching on the U.S.-Mexico border, she has many low-income students who speak English as a second language. “As I read their papers and learn about their lives, I am impressed again and again by their perseverance,” Osborn writes.
Colleges are crunching using “Big Data” to counsel students, reports The Chronicle of Higher Education.
The new breed of software can predict how well students will do before they even set foot in the classroom. It recommends courses, Netflix-style, based on students’ academic records.
Data diggers hope to improve an education system in which professors often fly blind. That’s a particular problem in introductory-level courses, says Carol A. Twigg, president of the National Center for Academic Transformation. “The typical class, the professor rattles on in front of the class,” she says. “They give a midterm exam. Half the kids fail. Half the kids drop out. And they have no idea what’s going on with their students.”
The software can warn counselors and instructors that a student is falling behind. Some colleges also use it to recommend courses and warn students away from courses they’re likely to fail. Some find that just a bit creepy. “I for one welcome our new robot guidance counselors,” jokes Instapundit, channeling the Simpsons’ TV commentator, Kent Brockman.
At Rio Salado, a community college with about 70,000 students, 43,000 of them online, (Adam) Lange got excited about the behavioral data they leave behind: the vast wake of clicks captured by software that runs Web courses. Records of when they logged in, opened a syllabus, turned in homework—all just sitting there. Could you mine the data to model patterns of students who succeeded in the past? Use the analysis to identify current ones likely to fail? And then help them? Many educators are now asking similar questions.
Mr. Lange and his colleagues had found that by the eighth day of class, they could predict, with 70-percent accuracy, whether a student would score a C or better. Mr. Lange built a system, rolled out in 2009, that sent professors frequently updated alerts about how well each student was predicted to do, based on course performance and online behavior.
But when the college began “sharing grade predictions with students last summer, hoping to encourage those lagging behind to step up,” the experiment flopped. Because of course changes, some predictions were inaccurate. The system is being redesigned for the fall term.
Siobhan Curious, who teaches at Quebec’s version of community college, was having a lousy day even before a failing student walked in to make it worse.
Kalia had failed the same class in the autumn because she didn’t come to class. After skipping the first two weeks of her second try, she came to the office to ask if she had a chance to pass the course. This time, she said, she’d come to class and do the work.
She came to the next class, but didn’t buy the books or do the homework. She started skipping class again. Her average was 10 points below a passing grade. After cutting class for three weeks, she came in to ask Curious for help with her essay.
“Kalia,” I snapped. ”As I instructed you and everyone, you should bring the essay to class with you on Monday and we’ll work on it some more and you can ask questions. We have spent THREE WEEKS working on this latest essay in class, and you haven’t been in class for that work. So you failed. I’m not going to give you private tutoring on everything we’ve done because you couldn’t be bothered to come learn what you needed to learn during class time. We talked at the beginning of the semester about what you needed to do to pass this course. You haven’t done it. You’re welcome to do this rewrite and do your grammar test and see what happens. But I’m not going to re-teach everything I’ve taught for an audience of one.”
Kalia went quietly away.
There are all sorts of arguments for why Kalia needs tough love, for why, no matter how harsh my response may seem, it’s really for her own good. She needs to take responsibility for her learning and fulfill requirements and deal with whatever’s preventing her from doing the most basic things she needs to do, or she needs to get out of school and come back when she can handle it. Coddling her is not going to help her. And so forth.
But none of these reasons are my reasons. . . . I snapped at her because I was exhausted and she was pissing me off.
Another post includes an e-mail conversation with an absentee who repeatedly fails to understand the assignment.
Remedial math is only the first barrier to success for California’s community college students. Only 55 percent of community college students passed college-level math courses in fall of 2010, concludes an EdSource analysis, Passing When It Counts. Forty-one percent of black students and 49 percent of Hispanics passed.
At a minimum, degree-seeking students must pass Intermediate Algebra or demonstrate proficiency on a math placement test. Until two years ago, only elementary algebra was necessary.
At a recent conference of the California Mathematics Council Community Colleges, math instructors “discussed a range of strategies, including helping students understand math concepts rather than focusing on formulas, and tying math instruction more closely to the courses of study students are pursuing,” Edsource reports.
Said Santa Rosa Junior College student Jesse Cohen, who has tutored his fellow math students, “Students need more of the why, not only the how and the what.”
Barry Russell, the community colleges’ vice chancellor of academic affairs, said instruction should stress relevance.
. . . many (welding) students don’t understand that welding has a “huge of amount of trigonometry in it.” Math classes, he said, should feature examples specifically related to welding, as well as to other fields that involve math skills, from business to medicine. “If we’re going to require math, then making the connections is more of what we should be about,” Russell said.
Success rates in community college math courses vary significantly across the state: While 69 percent of students passed college math at Merritt College in Oakland, only 34 percent succeeded at West Hills College Coalinga.
Community college instructors are trying to move students quickly through developmental math, reading and writing courses through initiatives such as the California Acceleration Project. Redesigning remedial instruction may carry over to college-level classes.
Both intellectually disabled students and their instructors are set up to fail, writes Anonymous, a professor at a commuter college, in an essay in Inside Higher Ed.
For the first assignment, Anonymous asked students to summarize the first three chapters of Girl, Interrupted in a few sentences. Jacob filled nearly half the page:
“There was a girl. A girl wrote this. A girl says what she did. The girl was stupid.”
The professor gave no credit and asked Jacob to see him during office hours. He didn’t show up. The next two papers received no credit.
Jacob was registered with the Office for Students with Disabilities. His counselor had recommended “special provisions and supplementary resources.”
The list of accommodations to which he was entitled was extensive: designated volunteer note-taker to be secured by instructor, extended time — up to double — for exams and in-class assignments, ability to complete tests and written work in a distraction-reduced separate location, transcriptions of all audio and video and materials, alternatives to oral presentations, preferential seating near the front of the room, permission to record lectures, and tardiness leniency.
The professor did everything required, but wondered if he should do more. He believed Jacob “lacked the intellectual capacity to either benefit from or pass the course” and sensed that Jacob’s “limitations prevented him from fully understanding his situation.”
He phoned Jacob’s counselor, who had no advice to offer.
I did not want confirmation that the work I had asked him to do was beyond his abilities. I did not want to know that he was, most likely, unable to average his grades or grasp their significance. I did not want to hear that he was a senior and scheduled to graduate in December. I did not want to listen to her say ,”The only thing I can tell you is that you should hold him to the same standards as his peers.” I did not want learn that both Jacob and I had been set up for failure.
Professors are able to talk about student preparedness and ability, even when it involves “such thorny matters as race, ethnicity, class, and gender,” he writes. “But we seldom mention one of the fastest-growing groups on campus: students with disabilities.”
Roughly 11 percent of first-year college students identify as having a disability of some sort. What responsibilities do instructors have to our students? Anonymous wonders. Among his other questions:
- Is it possible to hold a student to “the same expectations as his peers” while, at the same time, making substantive modifications and adjustments to grading structures and assignments?
- How can admissions criteria and course expectations be modified so that we remove barriers to learning for those who are qualified, while simultaneously maintaining academic rigor?
More broadly: ”Is it realistic, or even desirable, to make the attainment of a college degree a requirement for full membership and recognition in society?”
It’s time to start talking about these issues, Anonymous writes.
Anonymous marked Jacob’s papers and exams according to the guidelines set for the class as a whole, with words of encouragement, when possible. On the eve of the final, Jacob was certain to fail.