Tag Archives: online education

Massey Bill to Expedite Online Learning for Higher Ed

Online learning at GMU.

Online learning at GMU.

bill submitted by Del. James P. “Jimmie” Massey III, R-Henrico, would promote online education in Virginia by making it easier for the state’s higher ed institutions to enroll out-of-state students.

Frank Muraca, executive editor of Fourth Estate, George Mason University’s student-run news publication, has the story here.

Colleges and universities such as GMU are turning to distance education as a means to offer accessible, low-cost options to students who may not be able to commute to campus or commit to regularly scheduled classes. GMU Provost Peter Stearns wrote in March 2013 that Mason’s online programs would be “aimed strongly at out-of-state student audiences.”

But there’s a problem, Muraca explains. Virginia institutions offering distance education to out-of-state students must obtain authorization from the states in which they reside, a costly and bureaucratic process. The State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement eliminates a lot of the hassle. States SARA’s website:

[SARA] is an agreement among member states, districts and territories that establishes comparable national standards for interstate offering of postsecondary distance education courses and programs. It is intended to make it easier for students to take online courses offered by postsecondary institutions based in another state.

Massie’s bill authorizes the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) to join the agreement and approve of disapprove or participation by Virginia institutions.

It’s good to see that GMU is experimenting aggressively with both online courses and hybrid online/classroom courses. Between 4,000 and 6,000 GU students are enrolled in at least one online course per semester. Online education is a key component of the university’s newly adopted strategic plan.

It’s also encouraging to see that SCHEV is promoting SARA. Virginia public universities are not required to opt into the agreement, but as SCHEV communications director Kirsten Nelsen wrote in a press release, they would be advised to. “To ignore this opportunity risks falling behind other states as they join this cooperative effort. This will create a disadvantage for Virginia’s institutions and the students they serve.”

MOOCs: Hyped, Humbled, Hardy

MOOC pioneer Sebastian Thrun. I'd feel a lot better about MOOCs if he took off those uber-geeky Apple computer-glasses.

MOOC pioneer Sebastian Thrun. I’d feel a lot better about MOOCs if he took off those uber-geeky Apple computer-glasses.

Not unexpectedly, after two years experience, the purveyors of Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are re-evaluating their model for delivering educational services, according to the New York Times. It turns out that the jaw-breaking numbers of students enrolled in some MOOC courses — 160,000 in the case of on Stanford University professor’s course on artificial intelligence — really are too good to be true. A recent study of MOOCs indicates that only half of enrollees actually viewed a lecture, and only 4% completed a course. In a highly touted program at San Jose State, evidence suggests that students taking classes online performed worse than their peers in traditional classrooms.

Some critics of online learning no doubt will seize on these findings to crow about the superiority of the status quo. But they would do well to heed this line in the article: “Even the loudest critics of MOOCs do not expect them to fade away. More likely, they will morph into many different shapes.”

“It’s like, ‘The MOOC is dead, long live the MOOC,’ ” said Jonathan Rees, a Colorado State University-Pueblo professor who has expressed fears that the online courses would displace professors and be an excuse for cuts in funding. “At the beginning everybody talked about MOOCs being entirely online, but now we’re seeing lots of things that fall in the middle, and even I see the appeal of that.”

It’s been clear for some time, actually, that so-called “hybrid” learning, combining elements of online and face-to-face learning, may be the way forward. The experimentation and tinkering continues. “We’re moving from the hype to the implementation,” said MOOC pioneer George Siemens, who convened a meeting last week to discuss results. “It’s exciting to see universities saying, ‘Fine, you woke us up,’ and beginning to grapple with how the Internet can change the university.’”

VCU: Prime Candidate for a MOOCing

The VCU value proposition: a Top 25 basketball team

The VCU value proposition: a Top 25 basketball team

by James A. Bacon

I often wonder if higher-education board members can see the forest for the trees. In my mind’s eye, I see university administrations sharing huge volumes of reports and data in thick notebooks — no one can accuse them of a lack of full disclosure. And I imagine most board members (with a handful of notable exceptions) taking the information exactly as given, focusing on the nits and lice, never quite grasping the big picture.

For example, do you think the Virginia Commonwealth University administration would ever present the following data to its Board of Visitors — or anyone on the board would ask for it to be presented this way?

Consumer Price Index (2008-2012): up 6.6%
Virginia median household income (2008-2012): down 5.5%
VCU in-state tuition and fees (2008-1202): up 32%
Average VCU student debt upon graduation: $28,889*

Here’s where the money is coming from:

Source: State Council on Higher Education in Virginia

Source: State Council on Higher Education in Virginia. Note: E&G stands for “Education and General”

Here’s where the money is going:

Source: Knight Foundation on Intercollegiate Athletics

Source: Knight Foundation on Intercollegiate Athletics

The solid line shows average spending per full-time-equivalent student. Hmmm. It trended slightly down. The dotted line shows average spending per athlete. Hmmm. It trended dramatically higher. Let’s summarize:

  • Virginians’ median household incomes down by about 5.5%
  • VCU tuition and fees up 32%
  • Academic spending per full-time student down 9.2%
  • Athletic spending per athlete up $40,000 up 86%

What are VCU students getting for their massive increases for tuition and fees? The privilege of rooting for a Top 25 basketball team. Anything else? Better academic quality? More prestigious, better paid professors? (Hah!) Better career prospects?

Looks to me like VCU is a prime candidate for being dismembered by Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) or other variants of online- and technology-based education. At the end of the day VCU has a solid medical school and a few pockets of excellence like the advertising Brand Center and a top-tier art school.  How long will students for other programs be willing to pay VCU tuition and fees for the value they’re getting in return?

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* Average debt for the 63% of graduates who carried debt. Does not include the debt incurred by those who did not graduate.

Nuke the MOOCs

Is this guy taking a MOOC?

Is this guy taking a MOOC?

After a rash of enthusiasm about Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs), the counter-reaction is setting in. Only a tiny percentage of the hoards of people enrolling in classes actually complete them. Many students drop out because they have competing demands for their time; others get bored by the inability to have meaningful interaction with the professor or anyone else, even on online chat boards.

Rachelle DeJong enrolled in two MOOCs and declared them massively boring. Here’s what she wrote for “Minding the Campus“:

One of the main defects in MOOCs is the sterile, disengaged character that afflicts many online courses,  especially massive online courses. If a course is to be more than an intellectual IV dripping raw facts into the mind, it requires articulation of questions and synthesizing of answers, discussion and debate over claims and analyses, and some form of intellectual community that helps turn information into knowledge and knowledge into wisdom. Mere physical presence doesn’t guarantee any of these things, of course, but they do depend in varying ways on personal connection, which is much harder to replicate online.

Undoubtedly, there will be a niche for MOOCs, but I don’t see massively open online courses overthrowing conventional education. More likely the industry will gravitate to blended models that integrate computer learning, online learning and personal interaction — a model that combines the advantages of personal contact with the economies made possible by education.

The experimentation will continue…

– JAB

Higher Ed Shakeout Hits HBCUs First

NSU: Gleaming on the outside, troubled on the inside.

NSU: Gleaming on the outside, troubled on the inside.

by James A. Bacon

All colleges and universities find themselves under unremitting pressure these days as consumers balk at relentless increases in tuition & fees and new business models coalesce around online education. But few are as stressed as the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), which have special problems all their own.

Sidney A. Ribeau, the president of the prestigious Howard University in Washington, D.C., announced his retirement Monday following a 6.3% decline in enrollment this year and a decline in its Moody’s credit rating from A3 to Baa1, according to the Wall Street Journal. That incident follows the recent firing of Norfolk State University (NSU) President Tony Atwater and the closing of St. Paul’s College in Southside Virginia this summer.

“There are so many teetering on the edge right now … without some kind of intervention, 20% to 30% [of HBCUs] cannot survive another decade,” said Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.

Some problems are particular to the historically black institutions, which tend to have small endowments and rely heavily upon tuition and fees to meet expenses. The savings of black families were devastated by the 2007-2008 recession, and the 2010 tightening of eligibility requirements for Plus Loans (federal loans taken by parents on behalf of their children) impacted low-income families disproportionately. A WSJ survey found that enrollment had declined at a third of the 85 HBCUs surveyed by 10% or more between 2010 and 2012.

A longer-term trend has been the increased competition other higher ed institutions for black students; 90% of black students today now enroll outside HBCUs. Like the black-owned hospitals, banks, insurance companies that arose to serve blacks during the Jim Crow era, HBCUs have struggled to redefine their role in a desegregated society.

Online learning may provide the coup de grace. Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs), hybrid MOOCs and other permutations of online learning have the potential to slash the cost of delivering educational instruction. While students craving the residential experience at elite institutions such as Harvard, MIT or the University of Virginia may continue to pay a premium tuition, others, less willing to run up tens of thousands of dollars in debt, will gravitate toward online learning. The “existential threat,” to borrow a phrase from former UVa Rector Helen Dragas, will hit the HBCUs first.

Here in Virginia, Norfolk State has the most visible problems, but Virginia Union University (private) and Virginia State University (state-supported) may have slender margins for error. My impression is that Hampton University (private), one of the strongest HBCUs in the country, has the best chance to find its way in the new era.

Other universities will be tempted to dismiss the travails of the HBCUs as unique to that set of institutions. But they would be foolish to do so. HBCUs are simply located the closest to shore when the tsunami hits.

Curry School to Launch Education Technology Accelerator

bavarro_hall

Bavaro Hall, Curry School of Education

I like the sound of this news from Potomac Tech Wire:

The University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education plans to launch a new education technology accelerator in Charlottesville, school officials said. … The news comes amid a sharp increase in venture capital for education technology companies in recent years, with UVA Curry spinning out such organizations such as PALS, CaseNex and Teachstone. “Given these trends, and a strong belief that research-backed, education technology innovations can dramatically improve educational access and outcomes, UVA Curry is planning to start its own accelerator/ incubator program that is focused on driving innovative new startups in education,” the school said.

PALS is a “screening, diagnostic, and progress monitoring tool for measuring the fundamental components of literacy.”

Teachstone claims to improve learning from birth to high school “by making teachers more effective in their interactions with students” and using “proven approaches” in classroom observation and educator professional development.

CaseNex supports educators through an online, case-based approach. Multimedia cases, or “slices of life,” says the company web page. CaseNex forms a realistic connection between professional learning and the complex school environment. I’m not sure what that means. Is it like the business school “case” method brought to K-12? Could be promising.

Curry’s education accelerator is significant in many ways. First, it’s example of the kind of entrepreneurial activity, recently highlighted by PeterG, flowing out of UVa. Go Hoos! Second, it is indicative of the creative thinking and entrepreneurial energy emerging from the educational profession after decades of institutional lethargy. The willingness of venture capitalists to invest hard cash affirms that these ideas have some merit.

Which brings us to the third point. Watch out! The traditional model of K-12 education is being disrupted at many levels, not just by online learning. Traditional public-school bureaucracies are dinosaurs. We don’t have to spend more public money on education in Virginia to get better results. We need to break down barriers to innovation and find out which of these new ideas will work. School systems that experiment aggressively will thrive in the years ahead.

– JAB

Where Teachers Make Money Like Rock Stars

Kim Ki-Hoon

Kim Ki-Hoon

If America treated its teachers like rock stars, the theory goes, we’d get better, more motivated teachers. And better teachers would lead to superior academic performance.

Well, there is one country in the world where teachers have the potential to make money for nothing, even if they don’t get, in the immortal words of Dire Straits, chicks for free. In South Korea, Kim Hi-Hoom is said to earn $4 million a year as a teacher in one of the country’s tutoring academies, known as hagwons. The omnipresence of hagwons, the rise of celebrity teachers like Kim and the nose-to-the-grindstone culture of South Korea help explain why South Korean students perform among the very highest in international standardized tests and why the country has a 93% graduation rate.

Amanda Ripley profiled Kim in a Saturday Wall Street Journal piece, which is must reading for anyone wondering how the logic of online learning and free markets are reshaping education — at least in countries where rigid institutional barriers don’t stand in the way.

Nearly three out of four South Korean students participate in the after-school hagwons, in effect attending school twice — public school during the day and the hagwons at night. Hagwons scour the country for the best teachers and, in effect, set up them up in business. Many tutors grind out a tolerable existence, paid no more than public school teachers. But a few superstars stand out, attracting thousands of students.

Kim is one of those superstars. As Ripley puts it, “He is a brand name.” An English teacher, he provides personal teaching instruction to about 120 students in person. But he records his lectures on video and sells them for $4 an hour online. He also develops lesson plans and writes textbooks and workbooks. Indeed, he is so prolific that he employs 30 people to help him manage his teaching empire and publish his materials.

The level of experimentation and innovation in South Korea far outpaces that in the United States, where the educational system, encumbered by multiple layers of bureaucracy, is insulated from market forces. Unless vested interests co-opt the coercive power of government to protect the status quo, the hagwons show where the logic of technology, competition and freedom of choice could lead not just South Korea but the United States.

– JAB

MOOCs and the Honor Code

Teresa Sullivan. Photo credit: Virginia Business.

Teresa Sullivan. Photo credit: Virginia Business.

In an interview for its June issue, Virginia Business interviewed University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan about Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs). University professors are teaching six MOOCs this year. On the positive side, Sullivan said, the experience is changing how the professors are teaching their classes on the Grounds and promoting the UVa brand around the world.

But there’s one knotty issue the university hasn’t worked out yet:

We have a special issue with the MOOCs, and that’s the honor system.  It is known that, in the online environment, cheating is rampant.  It’s been difficult to develop ways that you actually know who’s taking an exam.

That’s a legitimate quandary. As far as I’m concerned, the honor code is sacred. Inviolable. It’s a bastion against moral decay and it cannot be compromised. The University of Virginia has systems in place on the Grounds to indoctrinate students and enforce the code. That system cannot possibly be replicated for 20,000 people taking a course around the world.

UVa may have to settle for two standards — one for students physically enrolled at the university and one for everyone else. Unfortunately, if the university cannot vouch for the integrity of online students, it will be understandably reluctant to grant them degrees, as Georgia Tech plans to do in a program I posted about recently. It’s a big issue to work out.

– JAB

Crunch, Rumble, Shake. Georgia Tech Goes MOOC.

Georgia Tech has a great campus -- which many of its new students will never need to visit.

Georgia Tech has a great campus — which many of its new students will never need to visit.

The tectonic plates of higher education continue to shift and slide. The latest rumble you heard emanated from Atlanta, where the Georgia Institute of Technology recently announced that it would offer an online master’s degree in computer science at less than one-third the cost per credit hour.

Georgia Tech is partnering with Udacity, a company that runs massively open online courses (MOOCs), and AT&T, which is donating $2 million to get the program started, reports The Chronicle of Higher Education. The program is expected to take most students three years to complete and to cost less than $7,000. The university and Udacity will split the tuition revenue 60/40.

“This is not going to be a watered-down degree,” said Georgia Tech Provost Rafael L. Bras. “It’s going to be as hard and at a level of excellence of a regular degree.”

“These students will never have to set foot in a classroom to earn degrees on par with those received in traditional on-campus settings—degrees that will be equally valued by their future employers,” blogged Scott S. Smith, senior vice president for human resources at AT&T, which aims to ensure a stream of qualified job applicants. “By harnessing the power of MOOCs, we can embark on a new era for higher education and for the development of a highly skilled work force.”

Bacon’s bottom line: There are several significant aspects to this story. First, Georgia Tech, a highly reputable academic institution, is willing to stake its reputation on offering an online degree program. We’re not talking about Phoenix University here. Second, AT&T, a Fortune 500 company, hopes to snap up a large number of the program’s graduates. So much for the concern about the value of MOOC credentials. Thirdly and most importantly, the economics of MOOCs are such that Georgia Tech can slash prices by two-thirds.

This experiment should send paroxysms of fear into every established institution of higher education in Virginia — and across the country. Academics can talk all they want about the putative advantages of traditional, face-t0-face education, but we’ll see what students say when they are given the opportunity to cut tuition costs by two-thirds. Higher ed — and in all likelihood, much of K-12 education — will be disrupted as thoroughly as newspapers, music CDs and book retailing have been. The big question for the Old Dominion is this: Will we be in the vanguard, or will we be bringing up the rear?

The move to MOOCs will not proceed glitch-free. Much to its embarrassment, Georgia Tech had to cancel one of its MOOCs, “Fundamentals of Online Education: Planning and Application,” after a series of technical snafus. But the technology will evolve, the online pedagogy will innovate, and the experience will continue to improve.

A sign of the times: Interest in MOOCs is now so fevered that Hybrid Pedagogy, which bills itself as a digital journal of learning, teaching and technology, is launching a MOOC… about MOOCs.

– JAB

“Not about Doing Education on the Cheap”

Philip Zelikow

by James A. Bacon

About a year ago, Philip Zelikow, the White Burkett Miller Professor of History at the University of Virginia, knew little more about online learning than the average man. But one day he found himself in an executive retreat at the Boar’s Head Inn with Meredith June-En Woo, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, to brainstorm the college’s future.

The subject came up of online learning and the recent launch of Coursera, a Silicon Valley-funded start-up that had signed up some prestigious universities to teach so-called massively open online courses, or MOOCs. “Email Coursera,” Woo told Zelikow. So he did, then and there. And thus started the College’s engagement with state-of-the-art online learning.

UVa’s Darden School of Business had already initiated contacts with Coursera, but Zelikow became the College’s point man. Indeed, he became so engaged in online learning that he now teaches “The Modern World: Global History since 1760,” to some 70 UVa students and 25,000 other enrollees around the world. Last night Zelikow regaled an audience of Richmond-area UVa alumni with observations about his experience in online education and how it will transform the University of Virginia.

The bottom line: Zelikow sees online learning as enhancing the experience for university students residing on campus but also opening up opportunities for a lesser, though still valuable, education around the world.

Further, he said, the University of Virginia will be a leader in this brave new world. “We’re on the eve of a transformation of higher ed around the world. It will be led by about 15 universities. The University of Virginia is one of them.”

The standard method for teaching a college history course has not changed in centuries, said Zelikow, whose non-academic accomplishments include heading the 9/11 Commission and working as a deputy to Secretary of State Condelezza Rice. The professor delivers lectures in a lecture hall students who passively take notes. Later, the students break into smaller classes where they interact with graduate teaching assistants.

The MOOC works very differently. Zelikow spent considerable time up-front converting his lectures into 92 video presentations of varying lengths that students could view at any time on their own. The lectures are supplemented by reading and digital-source materials accessible online and quizlets by which students can test their mastery of the knowledge going forward. UVa students can participate in discussion forums with 25,000 students enrolled around the world. Getting the perspective of a student from Colombia, say, on South American independence revolutions can broaden their understanding.

What’s more, because he wasn’t delivering lectures, Zelikow has time to interact with his UVa students. He has broken his class into two, which allows him to conduct meaningful discussions.

Zelikow says that the exercise has allowed him to develop a more powerful version of the course he has taught for years, and it forces students to stay engaged consistently throughout the semester as opposed to alternating between goofing off and cramming for tests.

Creating MOOCs is expensive — hundreds of hours of work must be invested up-front. But making that investment allows UVa to powerfully enhance the residential college experience. “This is not about doing education on the cheap,” Zelikow said. “This is about how to leverage 21st century technology to reinvent the classroom.”

UVa is determined to be one of the handful of elite institutions that shape the market for online learning, Zelikow said, but it is not yet clear how the effort will be paid for. His justification at this time: Online learning “powerfully enhances the experience of the students who pay the tuition. Parents are willing to pay for something that enhances their children’s experience.”

Online learning is still evolving and even Coursera hasn’t figured out yet how to make a lot of money from the technology, he said. “We want to be in the space because we recognize the potential.”