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.
Is online learning for steerage passengers, while only the elite actually meet their professors? Peter Sacks worries about stratifying and standardizing higher education on Minding the Campus.
Online learning will reduce higher education costs without harming student learning outcomes, argues former Princeton president William G. Bowen in Higher Education in the Digital Age. Bowen estimates teaching labor costs could be cut by 36 percent to 57 percent and cites a study by ITHACA, a non-profit organization, which found online students earn similar scores to students in traditional courses. Furthermore, access to online courses “could reduce the average time it takes to complete a degree, making colleges more productive, affordable and efficient.”
However, cutting teacher labor costs means cutting “interpersonal interactions that are an essential part of an authentic education,” Sacks writes.
. . . we should let fast and cheap educational programs provide students with basic skills and have the universities provide the real education. Faculty will then take on a new role: Instead of lecturing large classes, they will become expert consultants who guide learners in the application of information for solving, creating and inventing. David Brooks recently cited one professor’s prediction that universities will eventually tell students to take certain college courses online, “and then, when you’re done, you will come to campus and that’s when our job will begin.”
Currently, online learning is primarily for lower-income, lower-achieving students, writes Sacks, citing federal data. In 2007-08, the most recent data available, 18 percent of college students were enrolled exclusively in online programs. These students were more likely to attend an open-admissions college and to be the first in their families to attend college. Online programs provide access — to not-so-higher education, concludes Sacks.
Well-off students will attend the few colleges and universities that are wealthy enough to eschew standardization and automation. They alone will have real relationships with great faculty. A second, less wealthy group of students will use online courses for their general education and attend “authentic” institutions for a short while. For poorer students, online learning could well become the main course. They will attend institutions that, strictly speaking, grant post-high school credentials to the coach class.
At San Jose State, which is experimenting with online courses to reduce costs, philosophy professors criticized an edX course on justice taught by Michael Sandel, a Harvard professor and an academic star.
In an open letter, philosophy professors said online courses from elite universities “would compromise the quality of education, stifle diverse viewpoints and lead to the dismantling of public universities,” reports the New York Times. “The thought of the exact same social justice course being taught in various philosophy depts. across the country is downright scary,” the letter said.
Provost Ellen Junn said nobody had told the philosophy department to use the Sandel course, however several professors said they felt pressured to offer it. Peter J. Hadreas, who chairs the department, “said that administrators had now arranged to offer it through the English department, reinforcing his concerns that it would be taught by professors who are not trained in philosophy and would be especially reliant on the edX materials.”
Sandel responded, writing, “I strongly believe that online courses are no substitute for the personal engagement of teachers with students, especially in the humanities.”
The completion gap between online and traditional courses is narrowing, reports a Instructional Technology Council survey on Trends in eLearning at community colleges. Nearly half of colleges surveyed said online students are as successful as students in face-to-face courses, reports Fred Lokken, dean of the WebCollege at Truckee Meadows Community College.
Distance education enrollments at community colleges continue to grow, with a move to “blended” or “hybrid” courses. However, the rate of growth has slowed, concludes the survey, which was released at the annual meeting of the American Association of Community Colleges in San Francisco.
While community colleges are “exploring ways to use massive open online courses and open educational resources in their curriculums,” many distance education administrators remain “skeptical,” reports Scott Jaschik on Inside Higher Ed.
Both MOOCs and OERs have been promoted as ways to help cash-strapped community colleges educate more students, many of whom themselves are cash-strapped.
On MOOCs, the survey found that only 1 percent of community colleges are offering course credits or certificates for MOOC completion. While another 44 are “beginning to explore options” that might incorporate MOOC content into programs, 42 percent reported that they had no plans to do so.
“As would be expected with something so new, campuses are cautious in their approach. Many community colleges are skeptical that a large-enrollment solution is appropriate for campuses that believe in smaller, more personalized instruction,” says a report on the survey.
Only 36 percent believed open educational resources would have a “significant impact” at community colleges. Two-thirds of respondents said faculty members weren’t aware of OERs and lacked the time to locate and evaluate them. Many also worried about the credibility of some resources.
MOOC mockers don’t understand the potential of online learning, writes Geoff Cain, director of academic technology at Humboldt State, here and here.
State U Online, a new report by Education Sector and the New America Foundation, outlines five steps to implementing successful distance education programs.
Self-paced online courses backed by data analytics could help community colleges get students up to speed, said Khan Academy founder Salman Khan at the San Francisco convention of the American Association of Community Colleges. “About six million people around the world watch Khan’s free online tutorials each month, writes Paul Fain on Inside Higher Ed.
Khan thinks his nonprofit website can help community colleges, which he said are in the academy’s “sweet spot.” And he views community colleges as potential allies rather than competition.
“We’d love to work with any of you,” said Khan, apparently broaching the suggestion for the first time.
Free online courseware could help remedial students advance at their own pace, Khan said.
AACC leaders talked with Khan about collaborations, said Walter G. Bumphus, the association’s president. “It’s going to be good for community colleges and good for AACC,” Bumphus said.
Many conference sessions focused on using online courses — massive and otherwise — to serve more students, Fain writes. Some community colleges are creating their own online tutorials, often geared to remedial students.
In Louisiana, Bossier Parish Community College offers free, online study guides that teach grammar, skill by skill. Students can prepare for placement tests or brush up on the basics while taking college-level courses.
North Carolina’s Wake Tech Community College is using a Gates Foundation grant to create a massive open online course (MOOC) in remedial math. College instructors create the tutorials; Udacity provides the platform.
A proposed “New University of California” would award credits to students who pass exams proving mastery, regardless of whether they learned the material in class, online, at work or whatever, reports KQED.
Assemblyman Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, proposed AB 1306 to expand access to college degrees. New University would not offer classes, hire professors or charge tuition, but would be empowered to grant degrees if a student qualified for enough academic credit in a course of study. Students would pay a fee to take an exam.
California’s community colleges already offer course credit by exam, said an official in the chancellor’s office.
Wilk’s idea would “cheapen” state university degrees, responds Eric Grunder, opinion editor of the Stockton Record.
. . . before we set a whole new “university,” let’s better fund the community colleges, CSU and UC systems we have, including opening more seats and helping students pay to sit in them.”
College will be “better and drastically cheaper” in the near future as higher education is “unbundled,” argues Vance Fried in College 2020. ”Online 2.0 takes today’s version of online education to another level by making the whole curriculum competency-based and using self-paced courses that eliminate the need for a course instructor,” Fried writes.
Western Governors University, which offers low-cost competency-based degrees, is the first step, he writes. Southern New Hampshire University also is launching an affordable Online 2.0 degree.
Southern New Hampshire University plans a $5,000 online, competency-based associate degree that would “blow up the credit hour — the connection between college credit and the time students spend learning,” reports Inside Higher Ed. A regional accreditor has approved the university’s “direct assessment” method. The university will apply for federal approval to qualify students for federal aid.
In competency-based models, students demonstrate their learning through assessments, notes Inside Higher Ed. “If the tests lack rigor and a link to real competencies, this approach starts looking like cash for credits.”
Southern New Hampshire’s “College for America” will start with an associate degree in general studies and add competency-based bachelor’s degree programs.
The university will assess 120 competencies for the associate degree. Lumina’s Degree Qualifications Profile, which attempts to define what degree holders should know and be able to do, served as the basis for defining those competencies, along with the university’s general education goals. Other sources were used as well, like the U.S. Department of Labor’s competency pyramids.
Competencies are broken into 20 distinct “task families,” which are then divided into three task levels. For example, the “using business tools” family includes tasks like “can write a business memo,” “can use a spreadsheet to perform a variety of calculations” and “can use logic, reasoning and analysis to address a business problem.”
When students pass tests on the competencies within a family, “they will be deemed to have the knowledge and skills necessary to pass a 100- or 200- level, three-credit course,” according to the university.
The university is partnering with large employers, including ConAgra Foods and the City of Memphis, which will steer workers to the university’s College for America.
Twenty other colleges and universities are working with Western Governors University — also online and competency-based — on degree programs that will let students earn relatively low-cost degrees at their own pace and in their own homes. Competency-based programs are expanding, according to a Lumina report.
The U.S. needs a more efficient and effective higher education system, concludes a U.S. Chamber of Commerce report which rates the states on college access, success, efficiency, meeting workforce needs and transparency. Here’s the map showing grades for two-year public colleges.
Business leaders worry the U.S. will run short of educated, skilled workers, the report says.
At the community college level, only one state has a three-year graduation rate greater than 50 percent. Thirty-three states have two-year completion rates at or below 25 percent and less than 15 percent of community college students graduate in three years in 13 states.
All of this attrition is costly at a time when public and private resources are scarce. Thirty-three states spend more than $50,000 in education and related expenses to produce a credential at a two-year college; 13 spend more than $65,000. Although tuition remains low at most two- year colleges, this low sticker price masks considerable state and local spending per degree.
The report urges states to “move away from funding formulas that are based too heavily on student enrollment,” instead basing some funding on student success. In addition, “states could improve degree completion by removing the obstacles students often face when they wish to transfer credits between institutions.”
“States must find better ways to measure not only the quantity of degrees, but also their quality,” the Chamber believes.
Higher levels of postsecondary attainment will drive economic growth only if students are really learning something—and if the additional credentials earned in a state have value in the labor market.
Every state should follow the lead of the handful that have successfully linked postsecondary data to employment and wage records collected by other state agencies. These linkages are a key component of emerging state-of-the-art longitudinal data systems that follow students from K–12 education through college and then into the labor force. Such systems not only allow for better measurement of graduation rates, transfer outcomes, and time to degree; they also present an opportunity for policymakers to compare return on investment, in terms of graduates’ future employment and wages, across programs and institutions.
Finding ways to do more with less will require states to track the cost per degree across institutions, the report notes. Students and their parents, business leaders, policy makers and taxpayers need information on outcomes at individual colleges and universities.
Finally, states should test education innovations, such as online and “blended” learning, to find ways to serve more students at lower cost, the report recommends.
Students learn just as much in classes that blend traditional and online learning, concludes a new study, Interactive Learning Online at Public Universities: Evidence from Randomized Trials.
Students at six public universities were assigned randomly to take statistics “in a hybrid format (with machine-guided instruction accompanied by one hour of face-to-face instruction each week) or a traditional format (as it is usually offered by their campus, typically with 3-4 hours of face-to-face instruction each week).”
We find that learning outcomes are essentially the same—that students in the hybrid format “pay no price” for this mode of instruction in terms of pass rates, final exam scores, and performance on a standardized assessment of statistical literacy. . . adopting hybrid models of instruction in large introductory courses have the potential to significantly reduce instructor compensation costs in the long run.
However, faculty members need help in designing hybrid courses and making them more engaging, the researchers advised.
When community college students drop out, they lose future earnings and taxpayers lose their investment in the heavily subsidized system, write Mark Schneider and Lu Michelle Yin in a Los Angeles Times commentary. Raising graduation rates would raise graduates’ earnings and income tax revenues. But how?
One important step to reducing the number of dropouts would be to streamline remediation programs so that students can more quickly get to a level where the classes they take earn them college credits.
Expanding online courses would let instructors reach more students, allow courses to start “any day of any week and any week of the year” and lower costs, they add.
Another way to reduce the number of dropouts would be to replace a system that awards degrees based on “seat time” with a system that rewards subject mastery. This would allow students to move at their own pace through a course of study, progressing from one concept to the next after passing assessment tests. Competency-based models would allow for the certification of prior learning, speeding time to graduation.
Finally, community colleges should learn from for-profit institutions, which are “leading the way in developing innovative online learning platforms and redefining an approach to curriculum development and faculty training to encourage uniformity in instruction across multiple sites and instructors,” Schneider and Yin writes. Graduation rates at two-year for-profit institutions are almost three times higher than at community colleges.
For-profits aren’t a model, responds Daniel LaVista, chancellor of the Los Angeles Community College District, who complains that for-profit colleges charge much more than community colleges, burdening students with debt. (Of course. For-profit colleges are funded entirely by tuition, while community colleges are funded primarily by taxpayers.)
But LaVista doesn’t offer an opinion on whether community colleges could learn anything useful from for-profit colleges’ approach to online learning, curriculum development or faculty training and compensation.
Career colleges place students in the courses needed to reach their goals with no waiting and no wandering through electives. Many, many more students earn a certificate or associate degree. Nothing to learn or even discuss?