Can “novice learners” succeed in all-online courses? Many believe remedial and entry-level students need lots of personal attention to succeed. But San Jose State is working with Udacity on three online basic math courses that include round-the-clock online mentors, hired and trained by the company, reports the New York Times.
The tiny for-credit pilot courses, open to both San Jose State students and local high school and community college students, began in January, so it is too early to draw any conclusions. But early signs are promising, so this summer, Udacity and San Jose State are expanding those classes to 1,000 students, and adding new courses in psychology and computer programming, with tuition of only $150 a course.
San Jose State professors provided lecture notes and a textbook for the three basic math courses. Udacity employees wrote the script. The nonprofit also supplies online mentors who answer students questions immediately.
The Gates Foundation is giving grants to develop massive open online courses to teach basic and remedial skills, said Josh Jarrett, a foundation officer.
“For us, 2012 was all about trying to tilt some of the MOOC attention toward the more novice learner, the low-income and first-generation students,” he said. “And 2013 is about blending MOOCs into college courses where there is additional support, and students can get credit. While some low-income young adults can benefit from what I call the free-range MOOCs, the research suggests that most are going to need more scaffolding, more support.”
A bill in the state Senate would let wait-listed students earn credit for faculty-approved online courses, including those from private vendors such as Udacity and edX. The bill is controversial, especially with faculty members.
San Jose State President Mohammad Qayoumi favors blended learning for upper-level courses, “but fully online courses like Udacity’s for lower-level classes,” reports the Times. Online courses can be expanded easily, eliminating wait lists.
“If the results are good, then we’ll scale it up, which would be very good, given how much unmet demand we have at California public colleges,” said Ronald Rogers, a statistics professor. “I’m involved in this not to destroy brick-and-mortar universities, but to increase access for more students,” Rogers said.
Community colleges are worried about staying relevant “if massive open online courses (MOOCs) and other forms of online learning begin to offer students a high-quality, convenient, and low-cost pathway to a college degree,” writes Thomas Bailey, director of the Community College Research Center at Teachers’ College, Columbia, in CCRC Currents.
So far, however, community college students find it difficult to learn online, according to CCRC studies.
We found that in the majority of online courses, students had little meaningful interaction with their instructors. While the courses frequently required interaction with peers in online discussion boards or chat rooms, most students did not value this peer-to-peer interaction and said it felt both artificial and of little educational value.
Students told us that if they expected to struggle in a subject or really “wanted to learn something,” they preferred a face-to-face classroom where they had more contact with the professor. In online courses, they reported, they were more or less on their own.
Online instructors expected students to be independent learners “able to manage their time, take initiative, and generate their own
approach to mastering course material.”
In What We Know About Online Course Outcomes, the CCRC summarizes its research on community college students’ success in all-online courses, looks at how online courses can be improved and discusses how online instructors “might create a more robust presence in their courses in order to improve student engagement and retention.”
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.
California’s community colleges — the nation’s largest public higher education system — have cut as much as 20 percent of courses since 2008, driving enrollment to its lowest point in two decades, concludes a Public Policy Institute of California report.
A half-million students have been shut out in recent years, reports the state community college chancellor’s office. Enrollment fell from 2.9 million students in 2008-09 to 2.4 million students in 2011-12.
Rigo Navarro, a second semester student at Chabot College in Hayward, wants to major in criminal justice and engineering, but hasn’t been able to take math or a criminal justice, reports the Oakland Tribune. In the last two years, Chabot has closed 12 percent of classes.
Statewide, the number of for-credit classes fell by 14 percent between 2008 and 2011, while non-credit classes, such as English as a Second Language, dropped by more than a third.
New students must wait to register until continuing students have chosen classes. That’s made it hard for recent high school graduates to get started at community colleges.
The number of young, first-time community college students in California fell even further behind the number of recent high school graduates between 2008 and 2011 — a trend that, combined with lower CSU and UC enrollment, “does not bode well” for the state’s workforce, the report’s researchers concluded.
The state and the colleges must come up with a long-range plan to restore the system, concluded the report, which listed raising local parcel taxes, increasing tuition significantly, helping more students get financial aid and charging more for high-demand classes as options. In addition to raising revenue, online education and larger classes could reach more students.
Senate Pro Tem Leader Darrell Steinberg has introduced a bill to let state college students shut out of classes receive transfer credits for some private-sector online courses.
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.
New Hampshire community colleges are adding online and hybrid classes to help working students – and boost college revenues, reports the Concord Monitor.
“A large majority of our students work full time,” said Ross Gittell, chancellor of the Community College System. “So the flexibility of being able to take an online course is very attractive to them.”
In the past four years, the number of online students has doubled throughout the seven-college system. The number of online classes has increased by 67 percent and continues to grow.
Students will be able to take online classes from any New Hampshire community college, not just the nearest one. That’s expected to help students in rural areas.
“We can deliver more courses in a more effective way,” Gittell said. “It also increases the average enrollment, which increases the class size per course, which increases the net revenue since of course we still only have the one faculty person that you pay.”
New Hampshire Technical Institute made more than $2 million in revenue from online courses, reports the Monitor. By fall, NHTI will have five online degree programs available.
Learning online is especially difficult for lower-achieving students concludes a working paper by researchers at Columbia’s Community College Research Center. Younger students, males and blacks also did worse in online courses than in traditional face-to-face courses, researchers found after analyzing nearly 500,000 courses taken by more than 40,000 community and technical college students in Washington State.
“Low-cost online courses could allow a more-diverse group of students to try college, but . . . also widen achievement gaps,” notes the Chronicle of Higher Education.
All students who take more online courses are less likely to attain a degree, the study found. But it’s worse for more vulnerable students.
“We found that the gap is stronger in the underrepresented and underprepared students,” said Shanna Smith Jaggars, one of the authors. “They’re falling farther behind than if they were taking face-to-face courses.”
Online learning can still be a great tool, she said, particularly for older students who juggle studying and raising a family. For those students, as well as female and higher-performing students, the difference between online and physical classrooms was more marginal, according to the study.
“So for older students, you can sort of see the cost-benefit balance in favor of taking more courses online,” Ms. Jaggars said. “They might do a little worse, but over all it’s a pretty good trade-off for the easier access. But where a student doesn’t need online courses for their access, it’s unclear if that is a good trade-off.”
Writing courses attracted many poor learners, the study found. Online students had the grestest difficulties with social science courses, such as psychology and anthropology, and the applied professions, such as business and nursing.
Researchers suggested screening out students likely to do poorly, providing early warnings for struggling students, teaching online learning skills in some courses and/or working to improve the quality of online courses.
Digital learning is expanding higher education options for California students, reports the San Jose Mercury News.
Estela Garcia, a working mother from Menlo Park, attends class at her kitchen table after she puts her daughters to bed; Tim Barham, a UC Berkeley senior, takes statistics at home after a day at work; and Oakland teenager Sergio Sandoval studies a college course while in high school.
“I think this is the single most transformational thing that could occur in higher education in decades,” said Ron Galatolo, chancellor of the San Mateo County Community College District.
With the urging of Gov. Jerry Brown, California’s universities are expanding online options. The University of California, whose campuses offer more than 2,500 online classes, may require undergraduates to take 10 percent of classes online. As soon as this summer,
San Jose State University and Udacity, a Mountain View-based company, “could open for-credit math classes to all takers, at $150 each. Some 300 high school, community college and university students are in a pilot program to test the classes.”
Galatolo wants to work with Udacity to design refresher courses to help incoming students ace placement tests, avoiding the remedial “black hole.”
Estela Garcia and a former classmate, Kelsey Harrison, said their online coursework requires self-discipline.
Still, because of the relatively small size of the class, it was easy for them to reach their College of San Mateoinstructors when they needed help. That kind of communication between students and faculty is impossible in a course with thousands of students. Those courses rely on virtual study groups and crowd-sourcing — seeking answers from the whole universe of students.
A well-developed online class might reach struggling students better than a traditional one, said Ronald Rogers, the San Jose State professor who developed Udacity’s statistics course. Rogers said when he stands in a lecture hall and asks if anyone has a question, nary a hand goes up. The new platform inserts short exercises and quizzes into the lecture, prompting instant student feedback.
“Imagine being in a class where if every minute and a half, the teacher shut up and asked if you got it,” he said.
Online courses helped Tim Barham transfer from a community college to Berkeley a year early. Now at Cal, the legal studies major is taking statistics online. Otherwise, he said, “I would have had to graduate later or cut down on work hours, which I can’t afford to do.”
Older students are looking for ways to combine credits earned in many ways to complete a degree, reports the New York Times. New Jersey’s Thomas Edison State College, a pioneer in flexible, low-cost degrees, is growing rapidly. So are Charter Oak State College in Connecticut and the private, nonprofit Excelsior College in New York. ”The idea of measuring students’ competency, not classroom hours, has become the cornerstone of newer institutions like Western Governors University,” the Times adds.
Pilar Mercedes Foy, 31, a Thomas Edison graduate whose parents did not go to college, said after she got an entry-level job at PSEG, the New Jersey energy company, she realized that she would need a degree to advance. She earned the bulk of her credits through heavily subsidized evening classes offered at work, supplemented by classes at Union County College and 12 credits from the CLEP Spanish exam.
Foy didn’t borrow a penny.
David Esterson, 45, of Whittier, Calif., started taking college classes in high school and attended the University of Washington for a year. After working for years as a photographer and starting a music business, he decided to complete his degree three years ago. He took online courses at the University of Minnesota and the University of Phoenix and at several California community colleges, before earning a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies from Thomas Edison. He’s now enrolled in two graduate programs.
California colleges and universities will add online classes to meet soaring demand, reports the Sacramento Bee. It’s the only way to avoid “paying ever-increasing tuition,” Gov. Jerry Brown told the University of California Board of Regents last month.
Nearly one in four California community college students is expected to take at least one online course this year. Almost half the state’s 112 community colleges offer degrees and certificates that can be obtained without ever attending a campus class. Even so, enrollment bottlenecks at community colleges meant nearly a half-million students were on course waiting lists last year.
. . . San Jose State University launched an online project last month in which it is teaming with a Silicon Valley startup, Udacity, to offer two math courses and one statistics course to 100 students apiece. College credit will be given, with enrollment open not only to San Jose State students but also to veterans, military personnel and high school and community college students.
Brown’s proposed state budget includes $16.9 million for community colleges and $10 million apiece for the University of California and California State University systems to expand online options for high-demand, prerequisite courses.
A U.S. Department of Education analysis in 2009 of dozens of online education studies concluded that students who complete such classes learn more, on average, than those taking classroom courses, perhaps because they can repeat lectures and exercises as often as needed.
Reviewing the same online studies, however, the Community College Research Center cautioned that participating students tended to be prepared for college, so the findings might not apply equally to under-prepared students.
In California, community college students who take courses online are less likely to complete them than their peers in traditional classrooms, recording success rates of 57 percent vs. 67 percent respectively, in 2009-10.
It’s harder to learn in an online course, Andrew Campbell, 20, of Modesto Junior College, told the Bee. “You can try to communicate with instructors over email, but they have 500 students or something like that, so it’s difficult to get in touch,” Campbell said.
Dean Murakami, an American River College instructor and vice president of the California Federation of Teachers, which represents community college instructors, said faculty are concerned about a massive shift to online courses. “There’s no way that you could have the kind of interaction that we think is necessary,” he said.
The state’s non-partisan Legislative Analyst thinks the University of California system is getting too much money for old-style professor-in-classroom teaching, while low-cost community colleges are forced to turn away students. Paying off debt, reducing pension liabilities and reversing community college deferrals should be the state’s higher education priorities, the analyst recommended.
Community colleges are known for low tuition — and low prestige. A new company called Quad Learning is teaming with community colleges to offer an online honors curriculum, reports Inside Higher Ed. Investors hope students will pay more for an honors degree.
Students enrolled in the program — which is delivered in an online, synchronous format, but with extracurricular and other face time — pay more than they would to enroll in the traditional academic programs at their institutions, but significantly less than they would at most public and private four-year alternatives.
Next year, students will compete for 160 slots in Spokane’s program, paying $5,985 for the year, compared to the normal $3,921 tuition for in-state students.
Colleges will use the extra tuition to pay Quad Learning for its technology and coaching services.
For those extra dollars, students have much smaller classes, significantly more interaction with academic coaches from their colleges and from American Honors, and much more help in college guidance to help them prepare to transfer once they’re done, said Lisa Avery, dean of American Honors and global education at Community Colleges of Spokane.
Community college instructors in the American Honors network will collaborate on curriculum development and set common learning outcomes. However, each college will be able to adapt learning materials and assign its own faculty members to teach the honors courses. Honors graduates will find it easier to transfer to top universities, predicts Quad Learning.