Can online courses make teaching more human? asks Anya Kamenetz on Hechinger’s Digital/Edu blog. ”Data-driven pedagogy . . . conjures a robotic, dull future,” but “computer-powered analytics could expand humans’ ability to focus on the most human aspects of teaching and learning,” she writes.
I reported earlier this year on a small experiment the video website Khan Academy ran to this end.
While browsing the web site, some Khan users saw a simple slogan added to the page next to, say, a math problem: “The more you learn today, the smarter you’ll be tomorrow.” The line linked to a further explanation of the concept of “mindset,” the famous body of research by Harvard psychologist Carol Dweck on growth, achievement and motivation.
Displaying that one line led to a 5% increase in problems attempted, proficiencies earned, and return visits to the site, compared to otherwise similar learners who did not see the line.
Udacity is analyzing MOOC data to understand students’ motivation and engagement, blogs intern Andrew Liu.
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.
Louisiana has shifted adult basic education from high schools to community colleges: Unemployed and underemployed adults can train for skilled jobs while studying for a GED through the Louisiana Community and Technical College System’s (LCTCS) Work Ready U, reports Community College Times.
Most Work Ready U students are training for jobs in construction trades and welding or health care jobs, such as nursing assistants, phlebotomists and pharmacy technicians.
Delgado Community College (DCC) now has 2,500 students in adult basic education, compared to 500 in 2007-08. DCC is one of 10 Louisiana community colleges in Jobs for the Future’s Accelerating Opportunity program. “There is no reason why a student should need a GED before they start on a career pathway,” said Barbara Endel, national project director for Accelerating Opportunity.
Traditional adult ed courses didn’t provide enough structure and support, said LCTCS Chancellor Joe May.
When ABE was administered by the K-12 education system, it was run on an “open-entry, open-exit approach,” May said. That didn’t work so well with people who had dropped out of school, so there were high attrition rates.
. . . Work Ready U programs limit the number of people who come in at any one time and provide extra counseling and social services. Also, switching GED courses to community colleges allowed for more flexible scheduling, including evening hours, which are more convenient for adults with families and jobs.
“Pushing someone to get a GED requires a ton of effort, particularly for adults with families,” said DCC Chancellor Monty Sullivan. However, it’s worth the effort. More Work Ready U students are enrolling in credit-bearing courses. On average, they are less likely to drop out than regular students.
Last year Congress dropped Pell Grant eligibility for high school dropouts who passed an “ability-to-benefit” test. To keep Work Ready U on track, DCC turned to foundations to fund tuition aid.
Promising low-income eighth graders federal aid to pay future college expenses could motivate them to prepare for college, enroll and persist, predicts Accelerating College Knowledge: Examining the Feasibility of a Targeted Early Commitment Pell Grant Program, an analysis by Robert Kelchen and Sara Goldrick-Rab of the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
Students who qualify for a free school lunch in middle school are very likely to qualify for a Pell Grant in college — if they enroll, the study finds.
The persistently low college enrollment and completion rates of youth from poor families are partly attributable to their uncertainty about whether college is affordable. In the current system, concrete information about college costs arrives at the end of high school and is only available to those who complete a complex application. Evidence suggests this timing affects students’ motivation and ability to adequately prepare for college.
Simplifying the eligibility process to make an early Pell promise would increase the program’s costs by approximately $1.5 billion annually, researchers predict. However, “benefits would exceed the costs by approximately $600 million.”
For years now, philanthropists have guaranteed college aid to low-income students who complete high school, notes Inside Higher Ed. Recently, some towns and school districts have launched “promise” programs, which guarantee “some amount of college money to students who meet certain prerequisites.”
The researchers estimated that the guaranteed program would increase high school completion rates by about 10 percent, and that college retention and completion rates would increase by another 3 percent.
Since more educated workers earn more and pay higher taxes, an early Pell promise would more than pay for itself, the study concludes.
College readiness starts in preschool, concludes a report by an American Association of State Colleges and Universities task force. To prepare young people for higher education, colleges and universities should work with local schools and community partners to reach children of all ages, the task force recommends.
Academic readiness is a necessary condition for college success, but it is not sufficient. Students must also have the necessary personal characteristics—such as motivation, self-efficacy and study skills—and the social support to persevere when challenges could lead them to give up.
“Quality preschool is the single most important factor in preparing at-risk students for elementary school,” according to the report. Teaching basic math concepts and developing children’s language skills is “critically important.”
In elementary school, reading and mathematics are both key to continued school success. Students who are not reading at grade level by third grade are likely to be academically disadvantaged throughout the rest of their education. As children get into their adolescent years, skill in mathematics is particularly important regardless of the major that one will pursue in college.
High schools need “timely and useful” feedback on how their graduates are doing in college, the report recommends. In addition, high school students should have access to dual-credit programs.
U.S. academic achievement is “on a downward trajectory” compared to other countries, the task force warned. “Our institutions are devoting too many resources to remedial education, and despite this, graduation rates are far below what the country needs, even when measured after six years rather than the traditional four; and too many students are leaving our institutions without degrees but with significant debt.”
Grit and graduation will be the focus at Portmont College, a new two-year program for disadvantaged students, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. Mount St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles and the Gates-funded MyCollege Foundation partnered to create the new college, which is designed for young adults with grit, determination and barriers to success.
The hybrid program, which will combine online and in-person components, was designed for students who have the potential to excel in college, but who lack other things—such as money, strong academic preparation, or a flexible schedule—that correlate with postsecondary success. Perhaps they’re first-generation students with so-so high-school grades, or working adults who are caring for elderly parents, or nonnative English speakers who struggled on the SAT.
Portman’s president, Srikant Vasan, defines grit as “being able to get over obstacles as they appear in your path, to stand up when you’ve been punched down, to set a long-term vision and a goal for yourself, and be able to keep those in mind.” He hopes Portman’s focus on non-cognitive skills will “bridge the achievement gap.”
Students will need a high-school degree or GED and at least a 10th-grade proficiency in reading, writing, and mathematics. They’ll start with a free online Launch Pad course. Over three weeks, college officials will evaluate students’ non-cognitive skills and behaviors.
In the second phase (called “Ignition”), admitted students would participate in an in-person experiential-learning program. They would meet with a success coach and the peers who would form their “support community.” Later, during their first two academic terms, students would take two for-credit courses meant to reinforce what they’ve learned and provide continuing support.
Those courses would emphasize “core capabilities” associated with success in the workplace, such as critical thinking, communications, problem solving, and teamwork. . . . Portmont will use academic and “behavioral” data to tailor student-specific interventions throughout each semester.
Portmont College at St. Mary’s will start in Denver this December, offering associate degrees in business administration, computer science, liberal arts, and pre-health science. It will cost $5,240 per year.
“Academic confidence” is critical for community college students, concludes a new Community College Research Center study, which describes “ways to structure classroom and other on-campus environments to create opportunities for students to experience earned success and ultimately enhance their commitment to academic pursuits.”
Colleges are rethinking placement exams, concludes a new Jobs for the Future report, Where to Begin? Researchers have found that placement exams have very high stakes and are weak predictors of college success. Furthermore, it’s not clear that developmental classes improve student outcomes. “Many students required to take remedial classes could have succeeded in college-level coursework,” recent studies suggest.
Math and English assessments provide at best a narrow picture of students’ readiness for college. Placement tests do not measure many of the skills needed for college success—including persistence, motivation, and critical thinking. And only some students need most of the assessed math skills.
Some colleges in New Jersey and California are relying less on placement test results and more on high school grades or other measures of college readiness.
Also being explored are practices such as mainstreaming students into college-level courses with extra support, basing placement on students’ academic goals, and allowing them to make their own placement decisions.
Florida and Virginia are aligning assessments to their curricula instead of using off-the-shelf tests. Texas hopes to develop a diagnostic assessment to evaluate students’ strengths and weaknesses. In the future may be assessments of students’ cognitive strategies, such as critical thinking and problem solving skills, as well as on-cognitive factors such as persistence and motivation.
Until recently, students were advised not to bother studying for college placement exams. Now high schools and colleges are trying to help students prepare for the tests.
In some high schools, juniors take college placement tests to provide an early warning of what college requires and chance to catch up in 12th grade. Community colleges also are trying to help prospective students brush up on math or English skills before they’re placed in developmental classes.
College professors may be enabling “academic entitlement” in their students, according to research by Tracey E. Zinn, a psychology associate professor at James Madison University. Entitled students learn less because they don’t think they need to do the work, notes Inside School Research.
Signs of entitlement include the beliefs that:
• Knowledge is a “right” that should be delivered with little effort or discomfort on the student’s part;
• A high grade should come, not from mastery of material, but in return for non-academic aspects of education, such as the student showing up to class, or the student or her family paying tuition or taxes which go to the teacher’s salary; and
• If a student didn’t perform well on a test, it is a sign that the test was too difficult, not that the student did not understand the material.
Entitled students want instructors to give them the right answer, while students who don’t feel entitled ask for help understanding concepts, Zinn and her colleagues found.
It’s time to ditch college for all, writes Robert Samuelson. Enrollment has soared since the GI Bill was passed after World War II, he notes.
College became the ticket to the middle class, the be-all-and-end-all of K-12 education. If you didn’t go to college, you’d failed. Improving “access” — having more students go to college — drove public policy.
We overdid it. The obsessive faith in college has backfired.
Although college has been “dumbed down,” dropout rates are high and some graduates “aren’t learning much,” Samuelson writes. Surveys show college students are spending less time studying and doing less writing. Some 36 percent show no improvement in four years, according to the Academically Adrift study.
Worse, the college obsession is bad for high schools, Samuelson argues.
The primacy of the college-prep track marginalizes millions of students for whom it’s disconnected from “real life” and unrelated to their needs. School bores and bothers them. Teaching them is hard, because they’re not motivated. But they also make teaching the rest harder. Their disaffection and periodic disruptions drain teachers’ time and energy.
. . . Yet, vocational education is de-emphasized and disparaged. Apprenticeship programs combining classroom and on-the-job training — programs successful in Europe — are sparse. In 2008, about 480,000 workers were apprentices, or 0.3 percent of the U.S. labor force, reports economist Robert Lerman of American University. Though not for everyone, more apprenticeships could help some students.
The rap against employment-oriented schooling is that it traps the poor and minorities in low-paying, dead-end jobs. Actually, an unrealistic expectation of college often traps them into low-paying, dead-end jobs — or no job.
Lydia Dobyns of New Tech Network agrees in One Size After High School Does Not Fit All.
While 68.3% of 2011 high school seniors enrolled in college the year they graduated, “college persistence and graduation rates are shockingly low,” Dobyns writes.
We do our high school students a great disservice by suggesting they should immediately go to a four-year college upon graduation from high school — or they’ll be sentenced to a life of unskilled labor. Without introducing relevancy, rigor and career skills into high school, the college drop-out rates will continue to be unacceptable.
. . . Students need to feel they have options — to attend a community college, to delay entering college to work, to volunteer or to travel.
The unprepared and unmotivated may end up with college debt but no degree: Nearly 30 percent of college borrowers don’t complete a degree.
California community colleges, which raised tuition by a whopping 37 percent this year, continue to struggle with declining state revenues and rising student demand. Nearly half of students can’t get the classes they need. Meanwhile, completion rates are so low that the cost per degree or certificate completed is 40 percent higher than the national average.
The California Community Colleges Task Force on Student Success recommends focusing scarce resources, such as financial incentives and registration priority, on first-time students and motivated students who choose an academic plan and make progress toward completion. The task force’s draft recommendations (pdf), called a system “reboot,” would move away from what the report calls “open access and limited success.”
That’s raised controversy, reports Inside Higher Ed.
Colleges should be graded on publicly available score cards that measure completion rates and other “student success” metrics, the task force said. And students who declare their program of study early and follow an academic work plan should be given priority in registering for classes – a key advantage for a system that turned 130,000 students away last year after a $300 million budget cut.
The Legislature created the task force to analyze performance-based funding, an issue the report ignores. State legislators are complaining about that, while faculty leaders question the focus on easy-to-educate students, reports Inside Higher Ed. But some college leaders are supporting the report.
Eloy Oakley, president and superintendent of Long Beach City College, said it’s time to rethink priorities.
For example, California’s funding formula typically allocates more money for enrollment growth, which Oakley said has long encouraged colleges to chase growth at the expense of quality. And various student enticements that are currently in place, like a tuition waiver for lower-income students, do not recognize academic progress.
“We’re rewarding the wrong types of behavior,” Oakley said.
“Policies that enable students to wander around the curriculum, withdraw and repeat classes multiple times, avoid services that could steer them along a productive pathway, and accumulate an unlimited number of units are a disservice to enrolled students and to those who can’t get into the system for lack of available classes,” according to the task force.
“The thinking here is that it’s time to free up that slot for someone else,” said Erik Skinner, the executive vice chancellor.
The focus on “success” will mean failure for the neediest students, warns Daniel Luzer in the Washington Monthly. The Obama administration’s college-completion agenda, and pressure from foundations that funded the task force, put the focus on graduating more students while “turning others out,” Luzer writes. “That’s not student success, that’s just institutional advancement.”