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.



3 Comments to “Did Udacity online class pilot see poor results due to bad planning?”

  1. I’ve been sort of following this for a while. The Chronicle has done a lot of coverage. Evidently, there were only 100 for credit students, and 3000 not for credit students. The pass rate for the for-credit students varied from 29 percent to 51 percent, compared with 74% in the traditional course (they ran 3 online courses). The biggest problem, though, was the amount of time it was taking for the professors who were developing the courses – the estimate was about 400 hours per course – so they didn’t have adequate time to pay attention to how the students were doing.

    The problems with connectivity, hardware, and students not understanding expectations and time management were pretty standard for online courses, and are the reasons why the drop and fail rates are always higher for traditional online (not MOOC) courses compared to face to face courses. I each traditional online courses, and definitely see this problem. Students generally have very poor computer skills (digital natives?? not from what I see!), and constantly have lots of niggling problems which are very hard to solve remotely. They also have much more of a tendency to tune the course out. I taught a hybrid last spring (one class meeting a week, the rest is online), and one of my students never handed anything in! This is despite clear due dates on the syllabus and course calendar, and emails that came out each week detailing expectations. And we often discussed the assignments in class!!! At the end of the semester, he was very angry and told me he had no idea he needed to hand in the assignments that were “on the computer”. By his own admission, he had never looked at the syllabus, never read his email, and didn’t realize what we were talking about in class. Yes, this kind of thing happens in face to face classes too, but it is a lot more common in online classes.


  2. The San Jose Mercury News article http://www.mercurynews.com/opinion/ci_23688069/mooc-mashup-san-jose-state-university-udacity-experiment has more information. Pass rates in the traditional courses were much higher (around 80%).


  3. Thanks for the additional information!

    Like so many other educational innovations, these poorly thought out experiments come at a cost for students, particularly the ones least able to afford it.

    CSProfMom — Your story of nonchalant students too ignorant or too unmotivated to do the things necessary to succeed in an online class makes me think the same thing that I do about such students in traditional college classes — do they really belong in college?


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