Have you heard about the classics major who intends to be a military surgeon? Or the employers who think entry-level interviewees ought to show up having read the company history? No, of course you haven't.
Those people are not just unmentionable, they're unthinkable—at least in the vast, buzzing worlds of the news media, the blogosphere, and the many TED Talks. No one who studies the humanities could possibly have a practical career in view, anymore than someone who has a practical career in view would ever bother studying the humanities, right? And in the corporate world, only the CEOs, not the HR people, value a liberal education. Why would a company like Enterprise Rent-A-Car care if a prospective employee took the initiative to read the company history? What could the study of the past contribute to a career in, say, medicine?
Many people outside of higher education have never heard of massive open online courses, according to a new survey of public attitudes toward the free offerings.
While an overwhelming majority of respondents to the survey said they were familiar with online education in general, only 22 percent said they were familiar with MOOCs, and only 4 percent said they were very familiar with them.
The survey, which was based on a nationwide sample of 1,042 people interviewed online in May, determined that a majority of people were modestly in favor of colleges’ offering MOOCs. But there was a distinct split in attitudes among specific subgroups of respondents.
College students and soon-to-be-college students were the most likely to have heard of MOOCs, but only 26 percent of them said MOOCs were a good idea. Meanwhile, 41 percent of alumni said MOOCs were a good idea. Parents indicated a greater interest in MOOCs, but for themselves rather than for their children.
“For students who are currently in the midst of that more-traditional college experience, the idea that that might be replaced by an online experience is not particularly appealing,” said Jerry Johnson, executive vice president of Brodeur Partners, the strategic-communications firm that sponsored the survey.
The survey’s findings, to be released on Wednesday, suggest that colleges should be careful how and to whom they market their online offerings, said Greg Schneiders, a founding partner of the Prime Group, the consulting firm that conducted the survey. A key takeaway from the survey, he said, is that MOOCs by themselves are not a compelling draw for the student who is going to college for more than simply academic study.
Despite the broad interest in MOOCs among alumni, they were not more likely to donate to a college just because it offered the online courses. In fact, 26 percent of alumni in the survey said they would be less likely to donate if their alma mater offered a MOOC, while only 13 percent said it would make them more likely to donate.
The survey also sought to clarify which arguments are most persuasive both for and against the massive online courses. Pollsters found that the strongest messages in support of MOOC adoption included that they made higher education more affordable and available, and offered greater flexibility to students. The strongest message in opposition was that MOOCs cannot provide the “traditional college experience” that in-person attendance offers.
Based on the survey’s findings, Mr. Schneiders said that MOOCs would not be the death of traditional higher education. He said the survey had revealed that MOOCs were causing disruption in higher education more akin to the recent technological disruption in the retail sector than in the travel industry.
“Travel agents largely went away. Retail didn’t,” he said. “The difference being that there was something about the bricks-and-mortar retail experience that is different from buying stuff online. Online purchasing became another part of retail opportunity but not a complete replacement, and it looks like, based on this survey, that retail is the better analogy than travel.”
Professors are deeply invested in the logic leading to massive open online courses and are ill-prepared to argue against them.
Innovation cheerleaders and flat-worlders like Thomas Friedman and Clay Shirky are very excited, for they have seen the future of academe, and it consists of MOOCs. They happily envision open and affordable online access to dynamic, learned professors—the kind once available only to students paying tens of thousands of dollars in tuition at places like Harvard and Stanford. MOOCs will democratize education, they say, creating a more equal and consumer-friendly world.
Faculty members, meanwhile, watch these developments with nervousness and fear. In the rapidly rising popularity of MOOCs, they see the beginning of the end of higher education as they have known it.
Yet, far from a radical innovation, MOOCs are simply the natural extension of trends that have been at the heart of the modern university for decades. Defenders of the status quo are reminiscent of Casablanca's Captain Renault, who is "shocked, shocked" to discover an activity in which he himself partook. In April, the philosophy department at San Jose State University published an open letter bashing the use of Michael Sandel's MOOC, "Justice." Those professors compared the situation to "something out of a dystopian novel." ("Departments across the country possess unique specializations and character, and should stay that way," they wrote.)
Such rhetoric notwithstanding, faculties have been deeply invested in the logic leading to the rise of MOOCs, and are fundamentally ill-prepared to mount a serious intellectual argument against them.
For decades, nearly all of America's colleges and universities have moved away from the cultures and intellectual traditions within which they were founded. Religious institutions have become increasingly and uniformly secular (George Marsden documents this in The Soul of the American University).
The widespread abandonment of the title "college" in favor of "university" demonstrates the preference to be perceived as "universal" and research-oriented rather than as a "collegium" drawn to a unique scholastic endeavor rooted in place and history. Higher education is becoming increasingly monocultural as demands for geographic (and market) expansiveness take precedence.
The faculty are deeply invested in the logic leading to MOOCs, and are ill-prepared to mount a serious intellectual argument against them.
The faculty is composed of a rootless professoriate drawn from graduate programs aimed at producing research for denizens of the disciplines, and not oriented to culturally specific institutions, which, of course, are disappearing. To compensate for the professoriate's emphasis on narrowly focused research (which diminishes their focus on institutional governance), a cadre of administrators is needed.
Meanwhile, student bodies are becoming more homogeneous, claims of "diversity" notwithstanding, as they are shaped by standardized high-school curricula and nationalized testing regimens. Universities look to one another for prevailing norms and settle on a standardless standardization: the universal commitment to the amorphous goal of "excellence." Universities have come to value the same policies and practices: publishing in national and global academic presses and universally recognized disciplinary journals; participating in international disciplinary associations with conferences that "normalize" every discipline; emphasizing research (especially student research) at the expense of the humanities by insisting that the humanities are valuable only insofar as they create knowledge along the model of the natural sciences; and making broad institutional commitments to globalization, social justice, diversity, and the importance of STEM.
Part of this standardizing shift is driven by accrediting institutions and government bureaucracies, with their demands for "measurable outcomes" and "assessment." But a great deal of this impulse stems from internal institutional actors, including the faculty. The seemingly universal embrace of the research university—whether large and public or small and private—leads faculty members to demand that particular institutional affiliations, missions, cultures, and identities be relegated to occasional ceremonial expression. A global research culture dominates. The demand to generate "new knowledge" requires institutions to conform to canons of academic standardization that, over time, force colleges and universities to become intellectually indistinguishable from one another.
This embrace of uniformity has led nearly every institution to adopt the ethic of "globalization" and "internationalization." One sees a growing number of universities establishing international campuses, such as Education City, in Qatar, which includes programs from Carnegie Mellon, Northwestern, Georgetown, and Texas A&M. The assumption that knowledge is neither produced nor transmitted in local contexts leads, inevitably, to the conclusion that institutional identity is purely accidental—that every institution is, at its essence, a global content-delivery system. The result? Higher education is more monocultural than ever before.
As any botanist knows, a monoculture is highly susceptible to a single pathogen. A great shakeout is under way, and MOOCs are the logical outgrowth of this push for interchangeable educational delivery. Curricula, faculty, and students are overwhelmingly indistinct, and MOOCs are simply the cheapest way to combine those elements in our economically constrained times.
Colleges and universities are like the once-ubiquitous department stores in every city—Filene's in Boston, G. Fox in Hartford, Woodward & Lothrop in Washington—which, while enjoying distinct locations and histories, became increasingly similar. When consumers grew to value uniformity over a local market culture, those local stores were susceptible to the challenge from a truly universal competitor that could offer the same wares, produced cheaply, at low, low prices. Those stores are all now out of business. MOOCs are the Wal-Mart of higher education.
Consider Clay Shirky's recent paean to MOOCs:
"Cheap graduate students let a college lower the cost of teaching the sections while continuing to produce lectures as an artisanal product, from scratch, on site, real time. The minute you try to explain exactly why we do it this way, though, the setup starts to seem a little bizarre. What would it be like to teach at a university where you could only assign books you yourself had written? Where you could only ask your students to read journal articles written by your fellow faculty members? Ridiculous. Unimaginable.
Every college provides access to a huge collection of potential readings, and to a tiny collection of potential lectures. We ask students to read the best works we can find, whoever produced them and where, but we only ask them to listen to the best lecture a local employee can produce that morning."
Shirky is correct, of course, that students at every institution should be exposed to a wide variety of works. Yet he finds it unthinkable that institutions would limit that exposure, or that they might have a commitment to how works are presented to students. The conceit that the cultures, missions, and identities of particular institutions produce "artisanal products" seems quaint. Our contemporary educational Filene's, according to Shirky, must get big or get out. This phrase—"get big or get out," along with "adapt or die"—was the mantra of Earl Butz, secretary of agriculture under President Richard Nixon, who urged the replacement of small, family-owned farms with large-scale, industrial farms. As it did to independent farmers, the consumerist ethic now appears poised to transform higher education.
This metaphor points to some small hope for a different future of higher education. A few winners will provide a cheap, mass-produced product to consumers—the Wal-Marts and the Monsantos of higher education—and many losers—today's Filene's, Woodward & Lothrop, and G. Fox. But Shirky's dismissive nod toward "artisanal" teaching points to a better path for those institutions that want not only to survive but to flourish, by refusing to go along with the monoculture. Those are the ones that have, or are seeking to recover, their distinctive institutional identities—often, but not always, a religious affiliation.
Think of Providence or Belmont Abbey among Roman Catholic institutions, or St. Olaf or Baylor among Protestant ones—all rightly anticipating that nondescript and indistinguishable institutions will be easy victims of the logic of standardization. This artisanal direction requires hiring faculty who expressly share a commitment to the institutional mission and attracting students who seek a distinctive education. Consider Hillsdale College, with its traditionalist emphasis on core curriculum and Western civilization, and a growing number of institutions that combine a liberal-arts education with some training in "trades" or manual labor, such as Deep Springs College, in California. (Try to teach baling hay via MOOC.)
If it is indeed time to "get big or get out" — or, better put, "get online or get an identity"—then I'm for the artisanal, the local, the educational equivalent of farmer's markets. The irony is that while most professors embrace the ideal embodied in farmer's markets, they have supported the evisceration of local institutional educational identity. It's time to insist not only on locally grown food, but on local knowledge. I'd rather make and share my own beer than encourage my students to guzzle Budweiser.
Robert Ghrist, a professor of mathematics and electrical and systems engineering at the University of Pennsylvania, knows that wielding vast networks on behalf of nonuniversity benefactors can be tricky business.
Mr. Ghrist specializes in applied topology, an abstract math field. In practice, topological math can help someone harness huge collections of sensory inputs—like those collected by cellphones, for example—to model large environments and solve problems.
The Department of Defense has enlisted Mr. Ghrist to do research along those lines. The Penn professor knows he has little power over how the Pentagon might use his insights. But he says that no longer bothers him.
“I have long ago dealt with the issue of: What if something I create is put to bad use?” the mathematician says. “And I have found that, throughout history, the benefit of building good things outweighed the hazards,” he says, citing lasers and the Internet as net-positive inventions despite ample opportunity for abuse. “That’s true in my research; it’s also true in my teaching.”
That ethical dilemma became relevant to Mr. Ghrist’s teaching only recently, when he began teaching a massive open online course on single-variable calculus through Coursera, the Silicon Valley-based MOOC company.
A group of philosophy professors at San Jose State University last month raised concerns to Michael Sandel, a government professor at Harvard, for his offering a MOOC through another provider, the nonprofit edX. The administration at San Jose State is encouraging its faculty members to use edX courses in their own teaching.
San Jose State is one of the first universities to integrate MOOCs into its traditional curriculum. The major MOOC providers have indicated that licensing their courses to universities might become a key part of their business models.
In an open letter, the philosophy professors warned that such collaboration could mark beginning of a long-term effort to “replace professors, dismantle departments, and provide a diminished education for students in public universities.”
In a provocative twist, the professors addressed the letter to Mr. Sandel, implying that, by getting in bed with edX, their Harvard colleague would be culpable if their dystopian scenario came true.
When it comes to technology tools aimed at reducing operating costs, it is not uncommon for professors to distrust the intentions of university administrators—especially in California, where years of budget cuts have made faculty members especially leery of such “disruptive innovations.”
But the San Jose State philosophy professors’ decision to address Mr. Sandel directly introduced a new question: Are professors who develop and teach MOOCs responsible for how those MOOCs are used?
No, absolutely not,” says Mohamed A. Noor, a professor of biology at Duke University.
Mr. Noor teaches a MOOC through Coursera, called “Introduction to Genetics and Evolution.” The course is one of five Coursera MOOCs so far that have earned an endorsement from the American Council on Education, a Washington-based group that advises college presidents on policy. (Mr. Ghrist’s calculus course is another.) The council reviewed the courses and determined that students who pass them deserve formal credit toward a degree, making those five perhaps the most likely MOOCs to be adopted, in some way, by other universities.
To be clear, Mr. Noor says he believes dismantling departments and replacing them with MOOCs would be “reckless.” But the Duke professor also believes that, in such a case, “the fault lies with the reckless administration,” and not the professor who furnished the MOOC to the vendor that furnished the MOOC to the administration.
“I don’t see it as particularly my business how people use the stuff once I put it out there,” Mr. Noor says—though he adds that if dismantling departments were all a MOOC was being used for, “then I’d stop.”
Really, though, it is a university’s faculty, and not technology vendors and their collaborators, that is responsible for reining in reckless administrative efforts, says Mr. Noor. “Ultimately, faculty at individual colleges need to be the driving force behind what students at their campuses are using,” he says.
“And if that’s not the case” at San Jose State, says Mr. Noor, then MOOCs are “the least of the faculty’s problems.”
Granted, much of the philosophy professors’ letter was devoted to criticizing their university’s administration and laying out a general case against plugging a Harvard course into the San Jose State curriculum, particularly in a humanities discipline. The decision to take aim at Mr. Sandel seemed to be a publicity tactic, and not necessarily an attempt to tarnish all MOOC professors.
In interviews with The Chronicle, the professors who created the MOOCs that have been approved by the American Council on Education nevertheless rushed to Mr. Sandel’s defense, and to their own.
Roger Barr, a professor of biomedical engineering at Duke, says his professional obligation is to the students taking his MOOC on bioelectricity, not to colleagues at other institutions that might be advised by their superiors to use it. “I see my job as teaching students,” says Mr. Barr, “not protecting faculty.”
Sarah Eichhorn, a math lecturer at the University of California at Irvine, says she sees creating a MOOC as roughly equivalent to writing a textbook, or producing open resources for other teachers.
Ms. Eichhorn says she was surprised when the San Jose State philosophy professors went after Mr. Sandel. “I think it’s a professor’s job to make education available,” she says, “not to restrict it.”
In an unprecedented arrangement that involves aspects of MOOCs and a major technology company's support, the Georgia Institute of Technology will soon begin offering an online master's degree in computer science at an unusually low cost.
Georgia Tech announced on Tuesday that it would work with Udacity, a company that runs massive open online courses by well-known professors, to offer a series of online courses that students could complete to earn a graduate degree from the university.
AT&T is donating $2-million to help get the program started, and the company will play an active role in some courses, if professors agree—offering guest speakers or suggesting class projects.
Courses in the program will be free through Udacity's site, made up of video lectures and computer-graded homework assignments. Students who want the possibility of credit or a degree will have to apply for admission to the university and pay tuition, and those students will get access to teaching assistants and, in some cases, have their assignments graded by people.
The fees put a top-ranked computer-science program at a price point more comparable to a typical community college—about $134 per credit, compared with the normal rates at Georgia Tech of $472 per credit for in-state students and $1,139 per credit for out-of-state students, said Rafael L. Bras, the university's provost. The program is expected to take most students three years to complete, and cost less than $7,000.
The university and Udacity will split the revenue from the paying students, with 60 percent going to Georgia Tech and 40 percent to Udacity, said Mr. Bras. "Udacity and Georgia Tech split the net income of this and, obviously, the net losses, if we have any—which we hope we don't," he said.
A partnership between San Jose State University and another MOOC provider, edX, has sparked complaints from professors there, who worry that the university is headed down a path that could lead to fewer faculty members and lower-quality education.
Georgia Tech believes its project is different. "San Jose State is a different situation, and I'm not going to comment on it," said Mr. Bras. "We're talking about a professional master's degree."
He argued that technology can help reduce the cost of instruction without reducing quality. "This is not going to be a watered-down degree," he said. "It's going to be as hard and at a level of excellence of a regular degree."
Students on the degree track will have to take tests in person at one of 4,000 proctored testing centers run by Pearson VUE, but most of the students probably will never travel to the campus itself.
Georgia Tech officials are betting that there are plenty of students willing to pay to get a computer-science degree from the well-known research institution. By the end of the three-year pilot, officials hope to have thousands of students enrolled.
A New Approach
Russell Poulin, deputy director for research and analysis at the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies, said that while other colleges offer online computer-science degrees, the program at Georgia Tech is unique in that it is trying to reduce costs by adapting teaching for an online setting rather than simply transferring traditional methods online.
"The toughest part typically is overcoming some of the politics around that," said Mr. Poulin, whose organization promotes online education as part of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.
Officials at Georgia Tech say they have won all the necessary signoffs. "This program has been approved at every relevant level of the University System of Georgia, up to and including the Board of Regents," says a fact sheetabout the project.
Mr. Poulin said that the involvement of AT&T could raise concerns, though.
"They'll need to be open in how much influence AT&T has in the curriculum and faculty, and what is taught—and in how much dependence does Georgia Tech have on that," said Mr. Poulin. "That would be the concern as far as keeping the academic integrity of the program so it doesn't just become a training program for AT&T."
But Mr. Bras, the provost, dismissed such worries. "I don't have any concerns of that," he said. The program will use the university's existing curriculum, he said, and AT&T employees will get no special consideration in the admissions process.
AT&T says one of its goals is to preserve a pipeline of qualified applicants. The company is also signaling its willingness to take seriously those who study online.
"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," wrote Scott S. Smith, senior vice president for human resources at AT&T, in a blog post. "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."
Perhaps the most unusual aspect of the project is how quickly it all came together. That troubled Mr. Poulin, who said that many recent online-education efforts have learned things by trial and error that they could have guessed by reading previous research reports.
"If you run headlong into the forest," he said, "you're probably going to run into a few trees, rather than stopping along the side and saying, Oh, there's a map here; we could probably go through the forest without hitting trees..
Overnight, MOOCs -- with free tuition for all, attracting unprecedented enrollments reaching into the hundreds of thousands, and the involvement of world-class faculty -- have captured the imagination of the press, public and even legislators looking for ways to expand the availability of higher education at minimal cost.
But thus far little attention has been paid to the quality of MOOCs. Quality in online learning can be defined in many ways: quality of content, quality of design, quality of instructional delivery, and, ultimately, quality of outcomes. On the face of it, the organizing principles of MOOCs are at odds with widely observed best practices in online education, including those advocated by my organization, the Quality Matters Program. Many of the first MOOCs are providing quality of content, but are far behind the curve in providing quality of design, accountable instructional delivery, or sufficient resources to help the vast majority of students achieve a course’s intended learning outcomes.
Online learning isn’t just another path into the middle class. It’s also a way for the government to spend more wisely.
Three times a week, 15 weeks a semester, you can expect to see Sandra DeSousa teaching a room of 150 to 250 students the math they should have learned in high school. The adjunct professor at San Jose State University has another 100 students under her charge this spring, but she rarely sees them face-to-face.
In January, the California university entered into a partnership with Udacity, a Palo Alto-based company that specializes in providing free online courses, to develop entry-level classes in mathematics. Any student, not only those enrolled at San Jose State, can take one of the courses for academic credit. The university has its own separate online offerings, but a three-unit course can cost $1,050. The programs developed with Udacity were priced at $150.
What’s happening at 30,000-student San Jose State, the oldest public university in the West, reflects the pressures facing higher education across the country. Like other state-run schools, it is expected to provide access to as many students as possible. But in the wake of the Great Recession, taxpayers and tuition-payers are struggling to foot the bill. Deficit-ridden California has cut spending per student on higher education almost 30 percent since 2008, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and tuition at the state’s public four-year colleges has risen 72 percent. Not surprisingly, students have found it ever-harder to obtain the diploma that’s become almost a requirement for jobs that assure a middle-class life.
Education reformers see a remedy in Internet-based tools, which they say can help more students earn college degrees at a lower cost to themselves, their families, and the government. California legislators, hoping to hurry the process, are considering legislation that would require public colleges and universities to give credit for faculty-approved online courses. Those could include some of Uda-city’s free offerings.
Online education isn’t new. But the latest technological wave could shake up traditional modes of instruction—on-screen and off—and change the way brick-and-mortar universities operate. “I really do feel like this is going to erupt in a way that is helpful to students,” said Michelle Rhee-Weise, a senior research fellow in education at the Innosight Institute, a nonpartisan think tank. San Jose State’s partnership with Udacity could be the first tremor.
Even though badges are still in their infancy, a class of them have emerged that will make employers and admissions counselors take notice.
Sure, you can get badges for everything from helping a little old lady cross the street to winning seven sidebets in 17 days on the game Blackjack Carnival. But your mileage with employers from most of these distinctions will range from “Oh, that’s nice” to “You say you spent your unemployment playing online blackjack?” Even though badges are still in their infancy, a class of them have emerged or are in development that will serve as bona fides for valuable skills and expertise and make employers and admissions counselors sit up and notice.
Graduates with technical degrees and certificates often earned significantly more than did those with other academic credentials.
When it comes to getting a job that pays good wages, students in Texas might get more bang for their buck by attending a technical, two-year program than they would by earning a four-year bachelor's degree, according to a report presented on Thursday to the state's Higher Education Coordinating Board.
The report, which echoes findings released last year by Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, was prepared by College Measures, a partnership of two research and consulting groups, the American Institutes for Research, and Matrix Knowledge Group.
Among the findings, graduates with technical degrees and certificates often earned significantly more money than did those with other academic credentials. And students who graduated from regional and lesser-known universities typically earned just as much as those who graduated with the same degrees from the state's flagship campuses—the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University at College Station.
College Measures, which is supported by the Lumina Foundation, provides data to help students, parents, and policy makers determine how well colleges are educating students and preparing them for jobs. It has found similar results in its studies of public higher education in Arkansas, Colorado, Tennessee, and Virginia.
The new report comes at a time when Texas lawmakers are considering proposals to loosen high-school graduation requirements to allow more students to pursue technical trades in fields where employers are having trouble finding enough workers. Skeptics of that approach argue that students who are more broadly educated generally fare better over the long haul.
The College Measures study makes the case for looking at the short-term gain. It found that, one year after graduation, those with two-year technical degrees earned, on average, more than $50,000, about $11,000 more than graduates with bachelor's degrees. And compared with graduates of two-year colleges who had focused on academic subjects, those with technical degrees were making about $30,000 more.
Those who went on to receive master's degrees earned, on average, $63,340, or $24,000 more than the median first-year earnings of those who stopped with a bachelor's degree.
'The Truth Is, We Don't Know'
Mark Schneider, president of College Measures and a vice president of the American Institutes for Research, acknowledged in an interview on Thursday that the salary someone makes one year after graduation doesn't necessarily reflect a person's lifetime earnings potential. Many educators point out that, with rapidly changing work-force needs, students who complete narrowly focused technical degrees or certificates might land lucrative jobs right away but struggle to move on if those jobs dry up.
"We've all heard about the philosophy majors who start out as baristas at Starbucks and go on to become barristers, and the person with a technical degree who's going to be replaced by robots," Mr. Schneider said. But when it comes to tracking salaries 10 years down the road, "the truth is, we don't know."
He said he hoped to extend his studies to examine earnings three and five years after graduation.
Another key finding, he said, is that "you don't have to go to the most prestigious schools to do well in the labor market."
You also don't need a bachelor's degree to do well, with holders of certificates—one of the fastest-growing credentials community colleges offer—sometimes outearning recipients of B.A.'s.
The median first-year earnings of graduates of some certificate programs, including several in health care, top $70,000. That's $30,000 more than the statewide median salary for bachelor-degree graduates. Among the high-paying jobs certificate holders are landing in Texas are in construction engineering and pipe fitting.
The report compares how students who attend different types of programs in the same field might fare a year after graduation. For instance, someone who earned a certificate in business administration/management could land a job paying $37,000, compared with the $26,000 that went to an associate-degree graduate in the same field.
But certificates don't always lead to higher-paying jobs. Just ask cosmetology students, many of whom earn $13,000 or less. Graduates with technical associate degrees in registered nursing earn an average of $68,000, while someone coming out with a certificate in the field can expect to make about $20,000.
Despite all the attention paid to the need for more graduates in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields, biology graduates at both the bachelor's and master's level earn less than statewide medians, the report concludes. Math graduates fare better, outearning biology graduates by more than $20,000 statewide.
Texas' higher-education commissioner, Raymund Paredes, said on Thursday that the report confirms what earlier studies have shown about the value of technical degrees, but that students need to be educated about the long-term ramifications of choosing different paths.
"Many students, because of time and financial constraints, can't invest the time and money it takes to pursue a four-year degree in a field that pays well," he said. "Certificates can be a very viable pathway for many high-school graduates."
The report, from the New America Foundation, suggests collaborative approaches that would help more students find an affordable pathway to a degree.
Public colleges and universities, which educate the bulk of all American college students, have been slower than their counterparts in the for-profit sector to embrace the potential of online learning to offer pathways to degrees. A new report from the New America Foundation suggests a series of policies that states and public higher-education systems could adopt to do some catching up.
The report, "State U Online," by Rachel Fishman, a policy analyst with the foundation, analyzes where public online-education efforts stand now and finds that access to high-quality, low-cost online courses varies widely from state to state.
Those efforts fall along a continuum of organizational levels, says the report. At the low end of the spectrum, course availability, pricing, transferability of credit, and other issues are all determined at the institutional level, by colleges, departments, or individual professors, resulting in a patchwork collection of online courses that's difficult for students to navigate.
Some states, though, have taken "a series of steps that build on one another to make public online higher education more rational and accessible for different student populations," Ms. Fishman writes. "Taken together, these steps result in something that looks less like an unorganized collection of Internet-based classes, and more like a true public university."
That "something" is a model she dubs "State U Online," in which "students can move freely among institutions within a state and eventually beyond state lines."
he report identifies five cumulative steps that build toward State U Online and gives an example of a state or system at each step. Each example illustrates how that state or system overcame such obstacles as cost, getting faculty buy-in, and assuring course quality.
Take away the dorm rooms, the classroom banter, the brown-nosing, the keg parties and the tuition, and is it still college?
I learned many fascinating things while taking a series of free online college courses over the last few months. In my history class, I learned there was a Japanese political plot to assassinate Charlie Chaplin in 1932. In my genetics class, I learned that the ability to wiggle our ears is a holdover from animal ancestors who could shift the direction of their hearing organs.
But the first thing I learned? When it comes to Massive Open Online Courses, like those offered byCoursera, Udacity and edX, you can forget about the Socratic method.
San Jose State University plans to widen its relationship with edX, the nonprofit provider of massive open online courses, and the California State University system is encouraging similar experiments on 11 other campuses.
The moves were announced on Wednesday, just two semesters after San Jose State began a pilot project with edX to improve teaching and learning in its own classrooms. The university will incorporate three to five new edX courses into its local curriculum next fall, including courses in the humanities and social sciences.
San Jose State last fall used material from an edX course, “Circuits & Electronics,” as part of a “flipped classroom” experiment in its own introductory course in electrical engineering. The university offered three versions of the course: two conventional face-to-face sections and one “blended” section, in which students watched edX videos on their own and then participated in group activities, sans lecturing, during class time.
The pass rates in the two conventional sections were 55 percent and 59 percent. In the “flipped” section with the edX videos, 91 percent of students passed.
The second semester of trials, currently under way, has also produced encouraging results, said Mohammad H. Qayoumi, president of San Jose State, in an interview. But data from those trials are not yet available because the courses are still in session.
The findings are preliminary, Mr. Qayoumi acknowledged. But the president, who has never been reluctant to criticize an implicit bias toward traditional classroom teaching, said he was not worried about jumping the gun. “It could not be worse than what we do face to face,” he said.
The creators of a new mobile application are aiming to improve colleges’ engagement with students, using pop-up messages to survey students and aggregate data in real time.
The app, Student Engauge, is part of a larger trend toward mobile outreach, as colleges seek ways to engage with students who often don’t respond to e-mails or online pestering, says Justin Reich, a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. The app follows in the path of mobile warning messagesthat many colleges have adopted to alert students of campus emergencies.
Once downloaded on a mobile device, Student Engauge syncs to a student directory, allowing students to authorize their accounts using their existing credentials. The college can then send out questions or alerts based on those data—for example, asking a student whether he or she liked a professor, or asking a specific group of students if they found a counseling session to be helpful.
The app “taps into the one device students absolutely never put down, and that’s their cellphone,” says Nate Frechette, a recent graduate of Le Moyne College, who started the service with Aidan Cunniffe, a rising sophomore at Syracuse University.
While Student Engauge is the first app Mr. Reich has heard of that reaches out to students via their phones, he believes it fits into a broader effort in higher education to collect data about students’ experiences to improve college offerings through strategies such as online and in-class surveys.
“It’s pretty hard to get students to want to respond to these kinds of things, like course evaluations,” he says.
Le Moyne recently offered Student Engauge to its new freshman class, asking students who attended its summer-orientation program to download the app, and then sending out questions about their experiences or sending information to their cellphones. The college will expand the launch to the rest of the student body as the fall semester begins.
Deborah Cady Melzer, Le Moyne’s vice president for student development, says that after just one orientation session, students have already given feedback that has allowed administrators and staff members to improve the program.
“Without the app, we would have had to wait weeks, even months to receive evaluative feedback about the program that would not be able to be implemented until the following year,” she writes by e-mail. Syracuse, too, has begun using the app.
Of course, the response rate runs the risk of quickly falling at colleges that overuse the technology, says Harvard’s Mr. Reich: “I would imagine a lot of students saying, ‘This is annoying—I’d rather be text-messaging with my friends. Why do I want to interrupt that to answer a poll for you?’”
But finding ways to ask students about their learning experiences is something that every college should be doing, Mr. Reich says. And although there may be some “reasonable privacy concerns” about collecting too much information about students, he says, “the more we learn about students, the better we can do to serve them.”
The number of college students taking at least one online course nearly doubled, from 23 percent to 45, over the last five years according to the 2013 College Explorer, a new report from market research company re:fuel.
Technology has flattened other industries. Is education next?
The fact that MOOCs (massive open online courses) have sparked such controversy in higher education is hardly surprising. The debate about learning models, particularly on traditional — and expensive — college campuses, has been a lightning rod for many years. MOOCs simply add more fuel to an already blazing fire.
Kenneth Green, a 2012 must-read IT blogger, released an excellent white paper on the validity of MOOCs and the evolution of online learning. He notes that the sudden rise of MOOCs mimics the rise of the Internet:
For many people, the current discussions about MOOCs—and by extension, the accompanying formal and informal conversations about mission, money, and online education—will recall similar conversations more than a decade ago when the emergence of the Internet was a catalyst for campus discussions about “going online.” In the dot.com/dot.edu era, and perhaps again now, the expectation among some observers is that going online has the potential to be highly profitable and “only” requires a syllabus, servers, and students willing to sit in front of screens (“eyeballs” in the lexicon of the dot.com era). Then, as perhaps now, administrators and board members at smaller or less-well-known institutions were concerned that by going online, elite institutions (“brands”) would disrupt the market for higher education and threaten their enrollments.
Alas, neither the anticipated easy money nor the threatened market disruptions materialized.
Every college went online, and the playing field more or less leveled out again. Will the same thing happen with MOOCs?
The infographic below shows the results of a survey of higher education professionals. It explores colleges’ plans for dealing with MOOCs as well as the personal feelings of the respondents.
What is the cost of MOOCs for society at large? Who profits? And who loses?
In the last few weeks, faculty at universities from Amherst to Duke to San Jose State have been pushing back at the incursion of MOOCs on their campuses. The San Jose professors offered this reason: that giving in to MOOCs now means that “public universities that have so long and successfully served the students and citizens of California will be dismantled, and what remains of them will become a hodgepodge branch of private companies.”
Point well taken! If we centralize teaching through a few commercial or even non-profit MOOC providers, what is the future of the professorate? If undergraduate teaching is centralized by MOOC providers, how can we sustain future graduate programs except at a handful of elite universities? Without graduate departments, what is the fate of basic research?
Government and industry offer less and less support for theoretical and specialized research in the sciences; neither do they support the full range of research in the human and social sciences. As the prospects for teaching careers grow dim and support for teaching assistants dwindles, many fields at many universities will simply disappear. That's a problem, particularly because it may well be the research in these fields--pursued without a clear commercial end product--that results in transformative, world-changing insights, possibilities, discoveries, and breakthroughs.
MOOCs are forcing universities to confront some challenging issues including the cost of tuition, and who wins and who loses as this kind of online education emerges. Faculty and institutions are wrestling with these questions and are often rightly concerned about their future.
But left out of that conversation are the urgent demands of hundreds of thousands of students who are struggling with the cost and access to higher education--and potentially with staggering personal debt. Currently 450,000 students are on the waiting list for California community colleges alone. In the great technical schools in India, the admission rate is less than 2% as selected from only that tiny percentage of students eligible to take the entrance exams. The average GPA of a student entering the University of California Irvine this year is 4.1 on a 4.0 scale, and the students need perfect test scores and a host of extracurricular activities to get into their state university, too. That’s a tragedy for the students and for society.
MOOCs address students' cost problems by offering free or low-cost courses to anyone, often without prerequisites or entrance requirements. Sebastian Thrun, CEO of Udacity, in a recent video has said that 300,000 students have enrolled in just one Udacity computer science course. And, thanks to individual mentoring and tutoring, drop out rates for a number of the San Jose courses offered by Udacity are falling rapidly, even as new research suggests that problem-based, online learning in areas of study such as computer programming can achieve comparable retention rates of traditional lecture-style classes--and rival those classes when assessed on the "applicability" of the work.
It's for those kinds of reasons that Georgia Tech recently announced its first online master’s degree in computer science, funded partly by AT&T and offered by Udacity, and intended to reach a global audience far beyond the normal student body taught by Georgia Tech faculty.
What we have at the moment are competing values, competing goals, and, unfortunately, a lot of anxiety.
In the present mood of high polemic, hyperbolic promise, and hysterical panic, it is almost impossible to sort out the questions, let alone the answers to these questions, on either a national or international level: Is now the time to reject or embrace massive online learning? Do MOOCs yield improved learning and free and open access to those who have been excluded from higher education—or are they yet another cynical attempt to defund the public and extract profits from tax payers and diminish the value of what virtually all universally claim to be the public good of higher education?
As a small attempt to find clarity and some creative new answers to the problems of access and affordability, I’ve decided to teach a MOOC this coming academic year that, among other things, I'd like to offer up as a referendum platform on MOOCs.
In January 2014, I will offer a six-week Coursera class, “The History and Future of Higher Education,” free and open to anyone. I'd like to turn the class' weekly forums into an opportunity for a massive, global, collaborative, constructive, peer dialogue about how higher education got to its current dilemma. And from there, I hope we can come up with some creative, innovative, and workable ideas to make a better future.
[Click on article to read the rest of this fantastic opinion piece]
For all the star power harnessed by massive-open-online-course providers, Yale University has been a notable absence. While many of its elite peers scrambled to get out ahead of the MOOC wave, Yale bided its time.
That’s about to change. Yale announced on Wednesday that it would soon offer MOOCs through Coursera, the Silicon Valley-based company.
Yale plans to offer four courses beginning in January, focusing on constitutional law, financial markets, morality, and Roman architecture.
The move was a long time coming. Yale, which in 2007 became among the first institutions to make its course content available free on the Web with its Open Yale Courses lecture series, has taken a distinctly deliberate approach to MOOCs. Last fall it convened a faculty committee to recommend a broad online agenda that would encompass MOOCs as well as other forms of online teaching.
“We understand that there are institutional considerations (ranging from entrance fees to intellectual-property issues to regulatory-compliance matters) that may govern which MOOC platforms could be pursued by Yale,” the committee wrote in a report last December.
Nevertheless, it continued, “we recommend that Yale should use one or more of the new MOOC platforms to continue the free, online dissemination of Yale’s teaching materials.”
Apart from MOOCs, the committee recommended that Yale begin offering online language courses for credit “that could be available to Yale College students as well as students enrolled at peer universities elsewhere.”
Coursera, meanwhile, announced on Wednesday that it had created partnerships with a raft of companies and nonprofit groups that will work on translating its MOOCs into various foreign languages, including Arabic, Japanese, Kazakh, Portuguese, Russian, Turkish, and Ukrainian, which are the native tongues of a number of countries where Coursera’s English-language MOOCs have been popular.
There is substantial demand worldwide for American higher education, but experts have warned that MOOC providers that wish to serve a global audience face a challenge in accommodating various languages and cultures. And while many MOOCs are oriented to the common languages of mathematics and numbers, language barriers have caused some problems for MOOCs that rely on peer grading.
For its part, Coursera has focused of late on expanding overseas, where, surveys have shown, most of its registrants reside. In February, Coursera announced partnerships with 16 foreign universities.
The company said its efforts to serve non-English speakers would happen in phases. “For the time being, course lectures will be translated via subtitles while all other course material, including quizzes and assignments, will remain in the course’s original language,” it said in its news release. “Coursera’s long-term goal is to have our platform localized to global audiences.”
Faculty at several colleges have pushed back against online teaching collaborations with outside vendors, saying they want to use technology on their own terms.
Many professors recognize that online education is changing the landscape of academe. But faculty members at several colleges are making it clear that they will not be steamrolled.
Philosophy professors at San Jose State University last week wrote an open letter saying they refused to use material from an edX course, taught by a famous Harvard University professor, for fear that California State University administrators were angling for a way to eventually gut their department.
"Let's not kid ourselves; administrators at the CSU are beginning a process of replacing faculty with cheap online education," they wrote.
At Duke University a week earlier, an undergraduate-faculty council voted down a push by the provost's office to offer small online courses for credit through 2U, a company that sells an online platform and support services to colleges.
Are MOOCs and other online materials a threat to quality public higher education, and to our role as professors?
The members of the philosophy department at San Jose State University think so. They recently issued an open letter to Michael Sandel, of Harvard University, objecting to his role in encouraging the use of MOOCs at public universities. The controversy stems from San Jose State’s contract with edX, a company that provides MOOCs, including one based on Sandel’s course on justice at Harvard. San Jose State has agreed to use materials provided by edX, but the philosophy department has refused to use Sandel’s online lectures in its courses.
Competency-Based Associates Degree From College for America Is the First Sanctioned by the U.S. Department of Education for Funding Eligibility
MANCHESTER, NH--(Marketwired - April 18, 2013) - In what is being recognized by many as a landmark in the evolution of higher education, College for America has obtained approval from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) to be eligible for Title IV, Higher Education Act (HEA) funding. College for America's competency-based model is the first in the nation to be approved by the DOE under direct assessment provisions that pay for actual learning versus seat time.
Established in 2012 with support from an EDUCAUSE Next Generational Learning Challenge grant, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, College for America is designed to rebuild higher education and strengthen the American workforce.
"I am excited that Southern New Hampshire University is leading the way with its competency-based associate degree program," said Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter. "Our nation needs more individuals with the knowledge, skills and training to strengthen our nation's economy, and College for America's self-paced approach and partnerships with business is an example of the kind of innovation we hope to see across the nation."
"This a major step forward, especially for working students and their employers," said Paul LeBlanc, President of Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) and leader on the effort to innovate the program.
"So many of them want low-cost, highly measurable degrees that actually align with the needs of employers and workforce opportunities. This new federal loan and grant eligibility not only means more access for working students... it signals recognition of a whole new way to deliver learning that we think can significantly boost national competiveness."
In February, California Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg introduced a bill that would open the door for massive open online courses (MOOCs), such as Coursera and Udacity, to offer courses for credit to public college and university students in the state. Since its introduction, Senate Bill 520 (SB 520) has generated significant controversy, and apetition by the Berkeley Faculty Association opposing the bill has collected more than 1,500 signatures.
The Problem The goal of SB 520 is to help more students squeeze through the bottleneck of gateway courses required for their programs, a problem that is particularly bad at California Community Colleges (CCC), where 85 percent of courses in fall 2012 had wait lists, according to information from Senator Steinberg's office. Students in the University of California (UC) andCalifornia State University (CSU) systems are having similar problems, and only 60 percent of UC students and 16 percent of CSU students can complete their degree programs in four years, primarily because they can't get access to key courses required for their programs.
When there isn't enough space in required courses, many students are forced to enroll in courses unnecessary for their program, just so they can retain the full-time student status required for financial aid. As a result, students are taking longer to complete their degrees and racking up higher levels of student debt.
The Proposed Solution
To alleviate the lack of access to gateway courses, Senator Steinberg proposed to allow online education providers to grant credit for equivalent courses, within specified guidelines. The bill limits the online credit courses to a maximum of 50 of the most oversubscribed courses required for program completion, fulfilling transfer requirements, or meeting general education requirements. Credit for the approved online courses would be restricted to CCC, CSU, UC, and California high school students.
Billed as Asia's forst foray into offering massive open online courses, the class on science, technology, and China is a sign of the region's growing interest in online education.
Naubahar Sharif has been teaching science, technology, and innovation for some years at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. He drew on his lectures to develop a massive open online course, or MOOC, on “Science, Technology and Society in China,” and this month it was launched on the Coursera platform – billed as Asia’s first MOOC.
Some 17,000 students registered for the three-week course, which began on April 4.
“I was astonished and overwhelmed. This is far more than the 8,000-10,000 students we were expecting,” said Mr. Sharif, an associate professor.
Around 60 percent of the students are from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and other rich nations, with the rest from countries like Brazil, Mexico, and South Africa, and middle-income countries in Asia.
Inviting Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, or HKUST, onto the California-based for-profit MOOC platform was a deliberate strategy by Coursera to attract more Asian and particularly Chinese students – a massive market for MOOC providers.
“We do have students from China as well, in places where Internet connections are more reliable,” said Mr. Sharif. But, he added, it was striking how international the student body was.
This presents its own challenges regarding the level at which to pitch a MOOC. “We have the whole gamut of older and younger, experienced and less experienced students, and also academics and probably some people who are experts in related fields,” said Mr. Sharif.
The field of massive-open-online-course providers is becoming crowded. That’s even more so at Stanford University, where Udacity and Coursera, two of the largest providers, got their start.
Now there’s a new platform to add to the list. NovoEd, which officially opened on Monday, will begin offering seven courses to the public next week, as well as 10 private courses for Stanford students.
Amin Saberi, a Stanford professor and the start-up company’s founder and chief executive, said there’s a key difference between NovoEd and existing MOOC options: peer interaction.
“With this transition from brick-and-mortar classes to online learning, you shouldn’t lose the social, collaborative aspects of learning,” Mr. Saberi said. “It should be able to enable it.”
NovoEd was created by Mr. Saberi and a Ph.D. student, Farnaz Ronaghi, for use in an entrepreneurship course in March 2012. More than 80,000 students in 150 countries participated in the course by using the platform, working in teams on projects and business models.
“We had students from Silicon Valley to Russia to third-world countries in Africa,” Mr. Saberi said.
Some MOOCs have struggled to foster teamwork because of their size. In February a course at the Georgia Institute of Technology was suspended due to technical difficulties after the instructor attempted to use Google Docs to help the course’s 40,000 enrolled students to organize themselves into groups.
NovoEd is designed specifically with teamwork in mind, Mr. Saberi said. Students form groups at the beginning of each course, conduct class discussions by messaging one another or in discussion boards under an assignment, and evaluate their peers’ performance, much like team projects in face-to-face lecture courses.
NovoEd’s offerings for the public currently include courses on finance, product management, and mobile health.
One offering, “A Crash Course in Creativity,” explores how to increase your own creativity among teams and organizations. One assignment asks the teams to “look at bread in a new way” and to create presentations and video exploring the value of a loaf of bread. The videos are then viewable, and can be commented on, by everyone else in the course.
“It’s important to think about that learning is not just the mastery of skill sets or content,” Mr. Saberi said. “We want all the students to become critical thinkers. We want them to be better team leaders, better team players, and these are things you attain by working in teams and learning from your peers.”