Posts tagged ‘Massive open online course’

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.


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.

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.


October 10, 2012

Quick links – entitled kids, Moody’s on MOOCs, learn fractions before algebra

by Grace

—  Do kids today have a heightened sense of entitlement?

Ann Althouse wrote about a mother seeking advice on how to handle her “daughter’s ongoing disappointment” because her dream college was unaffordable.  Althouse recalls her own situation about 40 years ago when she felt bad about having to attend a public university instead of a more expensive private college.

My parents paid all my college expenses, and the notion of taking loans to make up the difference never came up. It was a different culture back then, at least at my house. You understood that you bought what you could afford, and it showed bad character to mope about it, and you didn’t want to be ungrateful or selfish. And if I had crossed the line into a display of such bad character traits, my parents would never have considered writing to an advice columnist about what to do about their complaining, ungrateful daughter who won’t value what is good about the college we are able to pay for….

The culture has truly tipped, with everyone feeling entitled to things they can’t pay for and assuming somebody else over there will pay somehow, some time, and I shouldn’t have to think about them.

This reminds me of a line I learned from another parent that I used with my kids when they were little.

You get what you get and you don’t get upset.

—  Moody’s on MOOCs

A new report by Moody’s Investors Service suggests that while MOOCs’ exploitation of expanded collaborative networks and technological innovation will benefit higher education in the United States as a whole, their long-term effect on the for-profit sector and smaller not-for-profit institutions could be damaging.

Moody’s takes the perspective of how MOOCs affect credit rating – good for elites, not so much for lower tier colleges and for-profit schools.

In the end, elite institutions are positioned to capitalise most effectively on the MOOC platform, by increasing their global presence and deriving greater credit benefits from new markets. Those institutions with limited brand identities, however, will have to compete more intensively to retain – or develop – a competitive edge.

MOOCs – The revolution has begun, says Moody’s (University World News)

—  Knowledge of fractions and division predicts success in algebra

Elementary school students’ knowledge of fractions and division uniquely predicts their high school mathematics achievement, even after controlling for a wide range of relevant variables, suggesting that efforts to improve mathematics education should focus on improving students’ learning in those areas.

Siegler, R. S., Duncan, G. J., Davis-Kean, P. E., Duckworth, K., Claessens, A., Engel, M., Susperreguy, M. I., & Chen, M. (2012). Early predictors of high school mathematics achievement. Psychological Science, 23, 691-697

Knowledge of fractions and division at age 10-12 was determined by testing students’ computational proficiency.

This finding is consistent with the recommendations of the 2008 National Mathematics Advisory Panel Final Report.

Fluency with Fractions. Before they begin algebra course work, middle school students should have a thorough understanding of positive as well as negative fractions. They should be able to locate positive and negative fractions on a number line; represent and compare fractions, decimals, and related percent; and estimate their size. They need to know that sums, differences, products, and quotients (with nonzero denominators) of fractions are fractions, and they need to be able to carry out these operations confidently and efficiently. They should understand why and how (finite) decimal numbers are fractions and know the meaning of percent. They should encounter fractions in problems in the many contexts in which they arise naturally, for example, to describe rates, proportionality, and probability. Beyond computational facility with specific numbers, the subject of fractions, when properly taught, introduces students to the use of symbolic notation and the concept of generality, both being integral parts of algebra….

Difficulty with the learning of fractions is pervasive and is an obstacle to further progress in mathematics and other domains dependent on mathematics, including algebra. It also has been linked to difficulties in adulthood, such as failure to understand medication regimens. Algebra I teachers who were surveyed for the Panel as part of a large, nationally representative sample rated students as having very poor preparation in “rational numbers and operations involving fractions and decimals” (see Panel-commissioned National Survey of Algebra Teachers, National Mathematics Advisory Panel, 2008).

September 20, 2012

A critical look at educational technology – are MOOCs losers?

by Grace

Arnold Kling gives his opinions on educational technology, labeling each option he reviews as either a Loser, Winner, or Magic Bullet.  His evaluations are based on his preference for a  many-to-one model.

… I believe that the future of teaching is not one-to-many. Instead, it is many-to-one. By many-to-one, I mean that one student receives personalized instruction that comes from many educators. To make that work, technology must act as an intermediary, taking the information from the educators and customizing it to fit the student’s knowledge, ability, and even his or her emotional state.


Kling believe MOOCs are not working out, an opinion partly supported by the fact that over 90% of students who enroll do not finish the course.  This particular bit of data doesn’t necessarily persuade me since I think a free “Stanford” course will attract many curious people who just want to see what it’s about and who feel no urgency to complete it.  But I do like this argument – that it is misguided to believe one particular course will always find acceptance among hundreds of thousands of students scattered across the globe.

We should not be surprised that MOOCs do not benefit most of those who try them. Students differ in their cognitive abilities and learning styles. Even within a relatively homogenous school, you will see students put into separate tracks. If we do not teach the same course to students in a single high school, why would we expect one teaching style to fit all in an unsorted population of tens of thousands?

An online course that has been designed at Stanford is likely to best fit the students who are suited to that particular university. The other beneficiaries are likely to be students who have the right cognitive skills and learning style but happen to be unable to attend college in the United States.

Tablets – WINNER

Although I do not even own an iPad, I am optimistic that tablets can be winners in education. It strikes me that a tablet can replace anything students carry today in their backpacks, other than lunch. You can read your textbooks in electronic format. With the right app, you have a scientific calculator. With another app, you can have a day planner, and it is easy to imagine enhancing such an app so that teachers can access it to add assignments and reminders.

Adaptive Textbooks – MAGIC BULLET

… an electronic textbook that adjusts to the cognitive ability and learning style of the student. Adaptive textbooks will query students in order to make sure that they understand what they have been studying. They will also respond to student queries. Adaptive textbooks will implement the many-to-one teaching model.

More opinions from other writers

Not so fast on the “adaptive” power of technology –  Katherine Beals writes that there is still a signficant “feedback gap” in educational technology, so far failing to give the personalized feedback provided by a good teacher.  Kitchen Table Math

A bad review for a MOOC course  – A college math teacher finds that “Thrun was a terrible lecturer and that the Udacity Statistics 101 course was badly structured and poorly taught—nowhere near the quality of a standard community college offering of the similar courses”.  Gas station without pumps

September 19, 2012

Quick Takes – Teens not worried about retirement saving, MOOCs accepted for college credit, most students not ready for college, and more

by Grace

—  Nearly 40% of Generation Z (ages 13 to 22) expect to receive an inheritance and don’t believe they need to save for retirement.

Yikes!  Teens: Mom and Dad Will Leave Me Enough to Retire (USA Today)

—  ‘Colorado State Becomes the First American University to Accept MOOCs for Credit’

Udacity and EdX have set up a system for proctored final exams for their Massive Open Online Courses. The NYT reports that Colorado State University has become the first institution to accept such a proctored courses for university credit.  The NYT reports that several European universities have already done so. Given that hundreds of thousands of people are taking MOOCs, expect more to follow.
Jay P. Greene’s Blog

—  ‘ACT Reports Only 1 in 4 High School Students Ready for College’

Once again, the results showed that only one in four students are meeting all college readiness benchmarks in English, Reading, Math and Science, which is on par with The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2011 results….

—  ‘Ten Reasons to Ignore the U.S. News Rankings’

But the compiled data can be useful.

10. Who’s your Daddy? U.S. News actually does two separate things. First, it presents a huge amount of data about lots of schools, much of which can be quite useful. For example, it allows you to compare the SAT ranges or relative selectivity of a handful of schools in which you are interested. But the editors then go on to make judgments about the relative importance of each of these numbers and build these judgments into a formula.  But why should you accept the value judgments of a bunch of editors sitting in Washington, DC? You can take the numbers and devise your own rankings.
MInding The Campus

—  Head Start doesn’t work according to recently released report and as reported by Joe Klein.

We spend more than $7 billion providing Head Start to nearly 1 million children each year. And finally there is indisputable evidence about the program’s effectiveness, provided by the Department of Health and Human Services: Head Start simply does not work.
Via Meadia

Walt Gardner thinks ” it would be a big mistake to dismiss the value of Head Start out of hand”.

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