Archive for ‘distance learning’

September 1, 2014

Will today’s families regret that they “grossly overpaid” for college?

by Grace

20 years from now, people who grossly overpaid for their bricks & mortar college experience and are still paying off their massive student loans, will feel like incredible chumps.

Looking at families digging deep into their pockets to pay exorbitant college tuition, this same thought has crossed my mind.  As college administrators ponder the rough road ahead, Stuart Butler of the Brookings Institution advises that it will take more than a few tweaks for some institutions to survive the coming years.

…  if today’s college leaders—even at the Ivies—believe they can merely tweak their business models to carry them into the future, then they are in for an even more unpleasant surprise. They should ponder the still recent experience of the music industry, film and television, booksellers, and news media. If they did, they would soon recognize that the higher education industry is encountering a multi-pronged and existential threat composed of successive waves of disruptive innovation. This disruption will force top-to-bottom changes in the very concept of higher education and its relationship with the broader economy.

Butler sees a pattern affecting many industries, including higher education.

1. The underserved consumers are targeted first, “leaving the upstarts to occupy a sector of the market of little interest to industry leaders”.  Online news aggregators looked to “young people with distinct tastes and only casual interest in the news”.

…Early versions of online courses appealed to students who could not easily maintain a regular schedule, or who needed more time to understand material….

2. The initial product is substandard.

… The Apple I, introduced in 1976, hardly seemed a harbinger of doom to the managers of IBM’s mainframe monsters. So it is no surprise today to read college presidents denigrating MOOCs and the cheap, no-frills degrees being rolled out in Texas and Florida….

3. Episodes of adaptation and refinement occur amid harsh criticism.

… The clunky Apple I sold just a couple hundred units, but the elegant Macintosh, introduced twenty years later, ransacked the computing industry.

That’s why the shortcomings of MOOCs today should be of little comfort to the higher education establishment….

4. Unbundling is to be expected, as both hospitals and newspapers have discovered.

As with hospitals and newspapers, bricks-and-mortar institutions of higher education are particularly vulnerable to unbundling. Universities are modular institutions, and lower-cost competitors can easily siphon off customers and revenue from individual modules. For instance, universities are partly a hotel and food service industry, and partly sports and entertainment centers. They have invested heavily in buildings and services that package these elements together at essentially one price. But this makes them vulnerable to competitors that find much less expensive ways to provide discrete modules like housing or even basic first-year classes—or that simply shed costly facilities like libraries or student centers, as online colleges have done.

While credentials are highly valued, academic information is priced at nearly zero.

Indeed, the most challenging and decisive feature of unbundling and competition for the low-cost parts of the college bundle of services comes from the fact that the price of academic information is falling nearly to zero. Why pay a ton of money to sit with 300 other freshmen, listening to a Nobel Prize winner you will never actually meet on campus, when you have access to everything he has written, maybe even video versions of his lectures, free of charge on the internet?…

Even the social part of college can be unbundled.

But what about the social “college experience”? Well maybe that can be unbundled, too. Does undergraduate college have to last four years, or could the residential, networking, or sports elements occupy just part of the period of study at much less total cost? Britain’s Open University has for years brought students on campus for just a few weeks each year. It retains a similar model today using online classes instead of its original televised courses. Yet it is number three in the UK for student satisfaction, tied with Oxford. Moreover, for many young people today online networking provides the relationship of choice for professional purposes, not just for social life. For them, Facebook, LinkedIn, and texting can be a more efficient and even more personal way of building and maintaining future career contacts than paying for a dorm or hanging out at a college gym.

How should universities respond?  Brooks recommends that they need to “price discriminate” in a way that supports what they are selling.  And “they will have to determine their true competitive advantage”.  So some schools, Ivies and other elite institutions, will be able to maintain high prices for the exclusive campus experience they are selling.  Other schools will drop their prices for the cut-rate learning experience they provide.

How should families respond?  Butler’s forecast is consistent with other predictions of sharper class distinctions and a  ‘growing bifurcation between elite universities and “trade schools”‘.  So families should be careful about paying premium prices today for what may be heavily discounted 20 years from now.

———

Stuart Butler, “Tottering Ivory Towers”, The American Interest, August 11, 2014.

April 29, 2014

How is higher education like the travel business?

by Grace

Is higher education going the way of travel agents?  This question arises from an Inside Higher Ed post by Joshua Kim, Dartmouth Director of Digital Learning Initiatives. 

The Web has put lots of travel agents out of business.

The Web has made lots of things about traveling easier, and probably cheaper.

But in displacing all those travel agents we may have lost something important.  We may have traded convenience and costs for quality.  

The cautionary lesson for higher ed may be that we should always be weary of any technologies that replace people.  We are a people driven business.  A relationship drive enterprise.  Relationships are things that technology does very poorly.

My guess is that the travel agents that are still thriving are the specialists.  The professionals that can combine their knowledge and experience with available technologies to create new opportunities to find and plan great trips.

I see his point, although there are many areas where replacing people makes good sense.

While personal relationships are still valued among the few travel agencies catering to elite travel, for most of us Google has replaced the human touch in planning trips.  In some ways this parallels the path that higher education has taken.  The most selective colleges offer the highest level of  personalized attention, ushering students through a learning experience that rewards them with impressive credentials at the end of four years.  Most other schools provide less, ranging from personalized attention with questionable learning at a high price to online learning that is a scaled-down version of a typical classroom setting.

I believe that we will leverage technology to tackle challenges around costs, access,and quality.

Most people probably agree with Kim that technology has the potential to improve higher education, as it has improved many other aspects of modern life.  But it seems that technology is often viewed as a blanket solution to many problems, including the very serious issue of skyrocketing costs.  In taking this approach, colleges are trading costs for a much diminished level of quality in higher education.

Related:  More on the ‘bifurcation’ of higher education (Cost of College)

February 27, 2014

Ready or not, K-12 is moving to increased online instruction

by Grace

It can be argued that K-12 online instruction in and of itself is no better or worse than traditional teaching.  Sometimes it works well, and sometimes it fails miserably.

In any case, the education industry is eagerly embracing online methods in yet another attempt to “innovate” K-12 education.

 … by the year 2019 half of all classes for grades K-12 will be taught online.

That’s the prediction from Clayton Christensen, author of Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Transform the Way the World Learns.  I will not be surprised to see this come true.

20140226.COCK-12OnlineGrowth1

There is very little good research on K-12 online learning.

… the results of meta-analyses of K-12 studies do not show a decided edge for students taking online courses or in virtual full-time schools performing even marginally above students who are in teacher-led classrooms.  More striking, however, is that only a few studies of virtual instruction in K-12 schools meet the minimum quality threshold for design, sampling, and methodologies….

Online instruction fills a need and is effective for some K-12 students.

“Some kids don’t have the discipline to sit down at a computer every day and do schoolwork with no one looking over their shoulder. … But for the right kid, the online approach offers benefits that traditional school doesn’t.”

Those benefits include flexibility and efficiency. Taking all or a few classes online gives students more opportunities than ever before. They have more opportunities to work while in school, gaining valuable job experience that economists show increases their ability to move up the ladder later in life. They can chase serious interests like athletics, music, or volunteering, and spend more time in the real world than preparing for it.

Any combination of lousy administration, inept teachers, and poor curriculum will produce poor results whether online or traditional methods are used.

Here are letters from Manhattan’s Murry Bergtraum high school students defending their fraudulent blended-learning program where one “social-studies teacher had a roster of 475 students in all grades and subjects”.

20140226.COCErrorLettersNYC1

A junior wrote that the program “made it less challenging and more understandable. We watched a video, answer a few questions, and took an online quiz/test. It was simple, and reasonable.” This helped him score 85 in chemistry, he said.

But professors at CUNY — where nearly 80 percent of New York City grads who attend must take remedial classes in math, reading or writing — said online instruction often leaves students ill-prepared.

No kidding.

February 24, 2014

You can get a college degree for almost free

by Grace

This college degree may not be prestigious, but it’s truly affordable.  Tuition is free, although each proctored exam costs $100.

Just in time for its first graduates, the University of the People, a tuition-free four-year-old online institution built to reach underserved students around the world, announced Thursday that it had received accreditation.

The University of the People currently offers degrees in business administration and computer science.  Present enrollment is 700 students, but with newly acquired accreditation that number is expected to grow to 5,000 students by 2016.

It appears that real learning is taking place.

Classes at the university are 10 weeks long, and have 20 to 30 students — often from as many different countries — who have weekly homework and quizzes. The university depends largely on volunteer labor.  Mr. Reshef said some 3,000 professors have offered to volunteer, although so far the university has only been able to use about 100 of them.

Its deans are volunteers from New York University and Columbia.

The school was created by Israeli entrepreneur Shai Reshef, who has been able to attract the attention of some big guns in the realm of higher education.

The University of the People, almost from the start, has attracted high-level support, with partnerships or backing from New York University, the Clinton Global Initiative, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the OpenCourseWare Consortium and many others. In August, Microsoft agreed to provide scholarships, mentoring and job opportunities to 1,000 African students who enroll at the University of the People.

I’m reminded of this:

 20130614.COCHousingPrices3

 

Related:

January 16, 2014

SUNY online program aims for 100,000 new students within five years

by Grace

“Open SUNY” is the new online system for New York state universities.

BUFFALO — New York state’s 64-campus university system is undertaking a major virtual expansion, adding new online degree programs and enhancing academic and technical support for students taking classes via computer.

In what it’s calling “Open SUNY,” the State University of New York goes live Tuesday with eight new online degree programs at six campuses and plans to add more in September. SUNY currently offers more than 12,000 courses and 150 degree programs online.

Students will be able to complete degrees online or through a combination of virtual and brick-and-mortar classes.

The goal is to make the online segment of the SUNY student body grow to about 15% of its total enrollment, with a particular focus on practical career preparation.

The new offerings will be aligned toward jobs in high demand. They include a clinical laboratory technologies degree program at SUNY Broome, an electrical engineering degree program from Stony Brook and an informations systems program through Empire State College.

Cost savings is another goal of Open SUNY.

  1. Are we trying to reduce costs for students through Open SUNY?

    Yes, we are looking to reduce costs for students. These savings can come in various forms such as reduction in text book costs to students through the adoption and creation of open education resources. If we can save each of our 469,000 plus students $30 in textbook costs, we will generate over $14,000,000 in savings. Online courses also allow students to save on costs associated with commuting and child care. During the Open SUNY development process costs and cost sharing will be reviewed with the goal of creating a rich, rewarding, and affordable experience for all students.

    Additionally, we will provide technical platforms and services so that campuses and faculty can openly share the materials and courses they create with learners throughout the world.  These open environments will provide free learning opportunities for anyone in the world.

Related:

November 25, 2013

MOOCs have not lived up to expectations, at least so far.

by Grace

Online education continues to evolve after first-generation MOOCs falter.

After a year of setback after setback, the hype around MOOCs is settling down a bit. The latest evidence of this comes courtesy of an interesting profile piece at Fast Company of Udacidy CEO Sebastian Thrun, a man who is in many ways the godfather of the MOOC concept.

Instead of his original goal of offering a “Stanford-quality education to millions of students around the world”, Thrun is shifting to “more vocational-focused learning”.

MOOCs have been a “lousy product“.

… Thrun highlights his disappointments with MOOCs’ record: 90 percent drop-out rates with only half of the remaining 10 percent actually earning a passing grade; the student demographic overwhelmingly populated by well-educated, college-degreed professionals rather than the underprivileged students he had hoped to reach; the San Jose State University debacle, in which San Jose students taking Udacity-delivered MOOCs performed significantly worse than their peers in physical classrooms; and the unexpected failure of Thrun’s interventions intended to raise passing rates. Thrun tried adding mentors and TAs to provide personalized attention and interaction with students, incorporating immediate feedback and rewards in the forms of badges and progress meters, and partnering with schools such as San Jose to provide college credit, which Thrun expected to ramp up student interest. “We were on the front pages of newspapers and magazines, and at the same time, I was realizing, we don’t educate people as others wished, or as I wished,” Thrun remarked. “We have a lousy product.

Online education will clearly continue to change higher education, and the first wave of MOOCs were only part of this evolution according to Walter Russell Mead.

Thrun’s change of focus may not be as big a shift as it appears on its face. It’s been apparent from the beginning that the format is better suited for some subjects than others. Math, science and business are easier to teach online than liberal-arts subjects like English and philosophy that rely more heavily on in-class discussions. And while a liberal arts education remains a good option for many people, the vast majority of American college students are choosing majors that are tightly linked to future careers: only 7 percent of all students major in the humanities. On the other hand, subjects like business, science, nursing and computer science are among the most common majors in the country. Even if MOOCs only impact the “vocational” side of the higher-ed world, this still amounts to a pretty sizable chunk of the industry.

Furthermore, while MOOCs as they’re currently offered may not be enough to upend the higher-ed system on their own, there’s lots of promise for “blended” courses in which the online material is supplemented by regular meetings with teachers or tutors who lead discussions and proctor exams. These meetings could be handled remotely using teleconferencing technology, or they could be done in person at local testing centers, in either case adding that human component that remains the weakest link in how these courses are offered today.

Related:

August 14, 2013

Can online courses work for struggling students?

by Grace

Can online instruction provide struggling students with the “human component and support” they need?

A local high school that experimented with online summer classes for students who had failed courses during the regular school year found it didn’t work out very well.

“It was interesting, but it didn’t work (because) they didn’t have that human component and support,” said Pelham’s interim superintendent, Charlie Wilson. “The kids who had failed it to begin with still weren’t able to pass it on the computer…

They had tried the online option as a way to save money, but now they have returned to traditional summer school classes.

New York Times editorial reiterates this issue in “The Trouble With Online College”:

… courses delivered solely online may be fine for highly skilled, highly motivated people, but they are inappropriate for struggling students who make up a significant portion of college enrollment and who need close contact with instructors to succeed.

Maybe “emotion-sensing technology” can substitute for a portion of the “human component and support” that struggling students need.

Facial Analysis Software Spots Struggling Students

A computer can learn to recognize, and respond intelligently to, users’ emotional state.

A recent study from North Carolina State University shows how this might work. Researchers there used video cameras to monitor the faces of college students participating in computer tutoring sessions. Using software that had been trained to match facial expressions with different levels of engagement or frustration, the researchers were able to recognize when students were experiencing difficulty and when they were finding the work too easy.

The project suggests a way for technology to help teachers keep track of students’ performance in real time. 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 (see “The Crisis in Higher Education”).

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 (see “Wearable Sensor Knows What Overwhelms You” and “Technology that Knows When to Hand You a Hankie”).

Hybrid learning
Even with sophisticated emotion-sensing technology, the suggested solution still involves a human who can respond to a student’s difficulties.  This is consistent with other research that shows hybrid learning holds the most promise for incorporating technology into education.

However, I don’t think a computer has been developed that can fully replace the parent who needs to get her kid out of bed on a summer morning to attend class.  For the most part, this still requires human intervention.

August 7, 2013

Did Udacity online class pilot see poor results due to bad planning?

by Grace

Poor planning appears to be a factor in the disappointing outcome of one Udacity pilot program.

San Jose State suspends collaboration with online provider

San Jose State suspends its project with Udacity to offer low-cost, for-credit online courses after many students fail to pass them.

San Jose State University is suspending a highly touted collaboration with online provider Udacity to offer low-cost, for-credit online courses after finding that more than half of the students failed to pass the classes, officials said Thursday.

Preliminary results from a spring pilot project found student pass rates of 20% to 44% in remedial math, college-level algebra and elementary statistics courses. In a somewhat more promising outcome, 83% of students completed the classes.

The San Jose State experiment with online education was being closely watched by other universities as they begin to step farther into the virtual classroom.

Udacity, a private Silicon Valley education group, and San Jose State announced jointly that they have agreed to pull the courses this fall to examine results in greater detail and fine-tune many aspects of the project.

“There are many complex factors that relate to student performance, and we’re trying to study the factors that help or hinder students in this environment,” said San Jose State Provost Ellen Junn.

Since the pass rates for students in traditional classes was not disclosed, it’s unclear how the online classes fared in comparison.

Udacity students were not typical San Jose students.

… Fewer than half of the Udacity students were enrolled in San Jose State; many were high school students from low-income communities.

Many Udacity students did not even have access to a computer.  Yeah, that might be a problem.

Provost Junn admitted the pilot program had some difficulties.

She acknowledged that educators did a poor job of explaining upfront what students should expect.

“We learned that we could have prepared them better about what it means to take an online course and that this is a university course with real faculty teaching for university credit,” Junn said. “Maybe some students didn’t take it quite seriously.”

It appears San Jose State rushed into this new venture unprepared.  After changes are made, San Jose State will again offer the Udacity online classes next spring.

Related:

June 13, 2013

Will runaway college costs be reined in by year 2020?

by Grace

Vance H. Fried has written College 2020, a paper that outlines how runaway college costs can be reined in by combining online and residential learning.

College in America will look very different in just a few years, thanks to remarkable innovations taking place in technology and business models in higher education. The advance of Online 2.0 will trigger structural changes in what we mean by a “college education.” Students in the future will be more likely to pursue their studies in an “unbundled” system in which different institutions provide different parts of a student’s higher education experience. Students will be more likely to learn through a blend of online coursework and a residential experience and will likely assemble a guided and rounded transcript of courses and experiences that are independently credentialed, allowing future employers to have a better measure of their skills.

Online 2.0 will evolve from the existing online environment.

The real technological change … is the use of data mining to create an adaptive learning platform. As a student uses the rich media content, various programs run behind it. These programs include “automated monitoring (the injection of small questions to assure learners are progressing with the content), assessment (quizzes that assure a minimum level of retention and understanding), and remediation (the additional content assigned to learners to make up for any shortcomings in that understanding and retention).”[7]

A hallmark of Online 2.0 is the enhanced ability for self-pacing, which “substantially benefits students of all types by providing total scheduling flexibility”.  The role of academic advising will become more important as students will need help in structuring their college experience.  Fried contends that this will actually serve to improve upon the current system, a notion that initially might seem counterintuitive, but actually makes sense considering the strong criticism of  the limited learning going on in college today.

Curriculum goes from being a somewhat random combination of discrete disciplinary courses to a coordinated set of competencies.

Students will spend only one or two years on campus.

While some colleges will preserve the four-year residential “college experience”, most will shorten the time a student spends on campus  This is key to saving costs while maintaining some elements of the traditional experience that students value:

  • A rite of passage performed with a group of peers,
  • A time for personal exploration,
  • A laboratory to develop leadership and personal relationship skills,
  • A supervised coming of age, and
  • Fun.

One model for this is the “flipped curriculum”.

… While most courses in the college of the future will be self-paced, some will be fully synchronous. Students will do self-paced online work focused on acquiring several different competencies and then take a synchronous class (or mini-class) aimed at integrating and applying multiple concepts through discussion or projects.

In addition to their direct impact on learning, a limited number of campus-based classes foster learning communities among students….

Unbundling will grow – universities will give credit for courses from many other  institutions.

While not all colleges will replace their courses with “competencies,” there will be more emphasis on taking courses from a variety of universities, says Fried. With courses available at low cost from many institutions, “the college experience can be unbundled from instruction.“ …

A university will become more like a travel agent than like a packaged tour.

“Unbundled college is analogous to putting together your own vacation to Europe or asking a travel agent to do it for you rather than buying an all-inclusive, prepackaged tour,” writes Fried. There is no reason why students can’t combine evidence of their competence into portfolios that will interest employers and no reason why entrepreneurs won’t become the packagers of those portfolios, possibly without any degrees at all.

Many of these changes seem realistic, but the actual cost savings are hard to predict accurately.
They could turn out to be marginal — maybe under 10%.  Online classes are not always that much cheaper than campus classes, and paying for more academic advising would add costs.  The scaled-down residential experience does seem like a reasonable compromise for middle-class families.

Related:

June 3, 2013

MOOCs may cut the price of a SUNY degree by one-third

by Grace

The State University of New York’s new agreement to offer massive open online courses (MOOCs) opens the possibility of obtaining a SUNY degree at about one-third discount off full price.

SUNY announced Thursday that it signed an agreement to partner with Coursera, a website with 3.7 million users that is a leader in offering what are called “massive open online courses.” Universities worldwide, including private schools in New York like the University of Rochester, upload video lectures and course materials onto the website in an effort to enhance educational access.

Starting with a course from Stony Brook University in the fall, SUNY is planning to offer some courses through the site, although how many is unclear.

Exact details are still to be worked out, but students could be granted prior learning assessment credits for MOOC courses taken through a SUNY campus or even elsewhere.  These “would essentially act as transfer credits” that would require a fee, but not a tuition charge for each course.  Presumably the credit transfer fees would be minimal, well below tuition costs.

A student might be able to get his SUNY degree at about two-thirds the cost of a traditional program.

SUNY allows only one-third of the coursework for a degree to be transferred.

“There would be a limit,” SUNY spokesman David Doyle said. “It’s not like you could get a free degree.”

This strikes me as not very different from the Advanced Placement program, which allows college students credit for up to one year ‘s worth of college courses.

Related:

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