High-tech start-ups are retooling college instruction, writes venture capitalist Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, in The New Republic. We need to “make certification faster, cheaper and more effective too,” he writes.
. . . a diploma is essentially a communications device that signals a person’s readiness for certain jobs.
But unfortunately it’s a dumb, static communication device with roots in the 12th century.
We need to . . . turn it into a richer, updateable, more connected record of a person’s skills, expertise, and experience. And then we need to take that record and make it part of a fully networked certification platform.
There’s a lot more to college than earning a diploma, responds Michael Gibson, who works for the anti-college Thief Foundation, in Forbes. To lower the debt to party ratio, we need to consider “all the friendships formed at school, the esprit de campus, all the networks.” What about beer pong?
College consists of: the clock tower, the stadium, the frat/sorority house and the admissions office, Gibson writes.
Taken together this is like an awful cable TV package. To get HBO, you also need to pay high prices for all those unwatchable stations like the Hallmark Channel. The future of higher education will involve unbundling this package and offering cheaper, higher quality substitutes.
The clock tower represents the amount of time spent studying a subject.
Classes are measured in hours per week; exams are given in hour length chunks; and students need some requisite number of hours in any subject to signal mastery. It is remarkable that we still use the hour as a substitute measure for learning to this day.
. . . we are on the cusp of having the technology to unbundle and decentralize this piece of the college puzzle. Coursera, Udacity, and other massively open online courses are only getting started in their effort to demolish the clock tower and provide the customized certification Reid Hoffman describes. What the fireplace, another medieval invention, is to the cold, the clock tower is to learning: proximity used to matter. And now it doesn’t. Central heating is better.
The stadium represents the tribal experience, which is very important to alumni. The frat house represents the friendships that lead to future networking. The admissions office confers status. These will be harder to replace than the clock tower, writes Gibson.
In the near future, the residential college experience will become a luxury item, I predict. Most people will decide it makes more sense to hang out with their friends, play beer pong, root for a professional football team and earn a low-cost career credential.
Udacity’s online partnership with San Jose State was suspended because of low pass rates in for-credit classes in its first semester. Pass rates improved significantly over the summer, exceeding on-campus pass rates in statistics, algebra and programming, but falling short in psychology and entry-level math, writes Udacity CEO Sebastian Thrun.
Learning from what didn’t work in the spring, Udacity changed some of the course content, Thrun writes.
We added hints for challenging exercises, and we added more course support staff to assist with online discussions and communications. We also changed the pacing methodology, informing students earlier and as part of their course experience when they were falling behind.
Enrollment was opened to anyone who wanted to try. Only 11 percent were California State University students. Half of the summer students already held a college degree and only 15 percent were high school students. In the Spring Pilot, half the participants were high school students (mostly from low-income areas) and half were San Jose State students.
Earning college credit was not the leading motivation, students said.
“Few ideas work on the first try,” Thrun writes. Udacity will keep working to improve the courses, especially in remedial math, which had the weakest results.
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.
Computers can monitor students’ facial expressions and evaluate their engagement or frustration, according to North Carolina State researchers. That could help teachers track students’ understanding in real time, notes MIT Technology Review.
Perhaps it could even help massively open online courses (or MOOCs), which can involve many thousands of students working remotely, to be more attuned to students’ needs.
It also hints at what could prove to be a broader revolution in the application of emotion-sensing technology. Computers and other devices that identify and respond to emotion—a field of research known as “affective computing”—are starting to emerge from academia. They sense emotion in various ways; some measure skin conductance, while others assess voice tone or facial expressions.
The NC State experiment involved college students who were using JavaTutor software to learn to write code. The monitoring software’s conclusions about students’ state of mind matched their self reports closely.
“Udacity and Coursera have on the order of a million students, and I imagine some fraction of them could be persuaded to turn their webcams on,” says Jacob Whitehill, who works at Emotient, a startup exploring commercial uses of affective computing. “I think you would learn a lot about what parts of a lecture are working and what parts are not, and where students are getting confused.”
“As scores of colleges rush to offer free online classes, the mania over massive open online courses may be slowing down,” reports Ry Rivard on Inside Higher Ed.
Even MOOC boosters, such as Dan Greenstein, head of postsecondary success at the Gates Foundation, wonders if MOOCs are a “viable thing or are just a passing fad.”
The American Council on Education has recommended credit for eight MOOCs, four by Coursera and four by Udacity. But ACE President Molly Corbett Broad said, “Now is the time for us to step back and do what all of us at universities are the best at doing: criticizing or evaluating or recommending changes or improvements – or some will choose to walk away from this strategy altogether.”
Not a single MOOC passer has applied for credit at Colorado State University-Global Campus, the first college to offer college credit, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. MOOC students could earn credit for $89, the cost of the required proctored exam, instead of paying $1,050 for a comparable three-credit CSU course.
The offer, made nearly a year ago, applied only to a single MOOC, in computer science. Students may have decided the credits would be useful only if they intended to finish their degrees at Global Campus.
However, the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning‘s Learning Counts, which uses prior-learning assessment to help adults turn off-campus learning into college credit, also is waiting for its first MOOC student.
MOOC providers say many who register for free online courses already have earned college degrees.
Lawmakers in California and Florida drafted bills aimed at making state universities give credit to students who pass certain MOOCs, notes the Chronicle.
But it remains to be seen how common it will be for college students in those states to get credit for MOOCs. Florida last week enacted a milder version of the original bill proposed there; the new law calls for “rules that enable students to earn academic credit for online courses, including massive open online courses, prior to initial enrollment at a postsecondary institution.”
The California bill has undergone a number of revisions, including language that would give university faculty members greater oversight of which MOOCs might be worthy of credit. That bill remains in committee.
Colleges and universities may be willing to integrate MOOCs into traditional, tuition-based courses, but resist “granting credit to students who take a free-floating MOOC,” concludes the Chronicle.
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.
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.
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.
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.