Googling of college applicants reaches all time high

College applicants are increasingly the subjects of Google searches and social media perusals in campus admissions departments, according to a national survey.

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Students are increasingly being negatively impacted by admissions office Google searches.

The online investigatory practice has gained traction in campus admissions offices, but is far from a staple in higher education.

Using Google, Facebook, and other popular sites to research applicants’ backgrounds has never been more commonplace, according to a national survey released Oct. 31 by Kaplan Test Prep.

Twenty-nine percent of admissions employees who responded to the survey said they had Googled an applicant, while 31 percent said they had scoured social media channels for applicant information. One in 10 admissions offices Googled applicants when the Kaplan survey started in 2008.

Seppy Basili, vice president for Kaplan Test Prep, said that “most admissions officers are not tapping into Google or Facebook, and certainly not as a matter of course. But there’s definitely greater acknowledgment and acceptance of this practice now than there was five years ago.”

Admissions officers who responded to a national survey in October 2012 said the percentage of applications that had been negatively affected by social media searches had nearly tripled, from 12 percent in 2010 to 35 percent in 2011.

Admissions experts said quitting social media cold turkey wouldn’t be the answer to protecting against Twitter and Facebook disaster for college hopefuls.

Should colleges make admissions decisions based on Facebook posts? See page 2 for more…

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Coursera’s online insight: Short classes are education’s future

Andrew Ng is at it again. The cofounder of Coursera — a Silicon Valley startup that offers free college-level classes to millions of online visitors –  is politely challenging another bedrock assumption in higher education, Forbes reports.

This time, it’s the belief that most classes should run 12 weeks or more. Not so, says Ng. In Coursera’s online world, where there’s no need to follow traditional academic calendars, the short class is enjoying a remarkable burst of popularity.

As the accompanying chart shows, Coursera currently is offering classes as short as three weeks. Its most common offerings run just six weeks. And classes of 10 weeks or more constitute just 27% of Coursera’s current menu of 335 classes.

What’s making conciseness so appealing? In a new LinkedIn Influencers post, I share some of Ng’s perspectives. Coursera’s classes typically experience two waves of attrition. The first involves people who sign up for classes and then never attend a lecture — or give up after a few minutes. That sort of casual browsing doesn’t bother Coursera insiders.

The site is designed to make such window-shopping easy.

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UT joins growing number of universities offering free online classes

Michael Starbird, a University of Texas math professor, was in his element one day last week, teaching students to puzzle their way through the concept of infinity using an endless supply of make-believe golf balls and pingpong balls, The Republic reports.

He’s done it a hundred times, but never quite like this, with a video camera rolling and a behind-the-scenes staff of editors, producers and students who will package this lesson and others into “Effective Thinking Through Mathematics,” his online course free to anyone in the world with a computer and an Internet connection.

Starbird, who has an easy manner and mostly gray hair, is eager to see how the course will be received when it’s released in the spring semester — and, more broadly, how such “massive open online courses,” or MOOCs, evolve in the rapidly changing landscape of higher education.

… In the past year or so, scores of universities have joined this ever-expanding experiment, offering MOOCs generally for free — and for no credit — typically through such online learning platforms as Coursera, Udacity and edX.

Most MOOCs feature video of a faculty member lecturing, with charts, maps and other graphics for highlights. Online discussion forums allow students to converse with each other, faculty members and teaching assistants.

Quizzes, reading assignments and separate online research are often part of the package. In some cases, students can get a certificate for doing well, but it generally wouldn’t count toward a degree or workforce training.

Only a handful of schools in Texas offer MOOCs.

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Move over MOOCs

Massive open online courses, or MOOCs, offered by universities have the potential to shake up education. People yearn to learn, but many enroll on MOOC courses only to flunk out after a few lessons, The Economist reports.

MOOCs are ill-suited to their medium: they are long and lack interaction. That is why less formal alternatives are doing well. TED Talks have thrived.

The video lectures, less than 20 minutes long and given by sharp suited penseurs, are devoured by a large audience keen to learn superficial facts about their world (Malcolm Gladwell, the pop science author recently savaged in our paper edition, is a star in the TED firmament). On the average commuter train, chances are that the young man in the flannel shirt and ankle boots peering at his iPhone is plugged into the latest TED Talk.

Coursmos offers videos that are shorter still, generally less than a minute in length and no more than three, which can be combined into several modules to produce a course that can be completed quicker than an entire TED Talk. The month-old Russian start-up’s offerings are sparse at the moment.

A grand total of 12 micro-courses, one of which is a six second video of a still computer screen, are all that prospective learners have to choose from. But courses are user-generated and free to access, so if the concept picks up it has the potential to improve.

Certainly Russian venture capitalists believe Coursmos could be big: a pre-seed funding round raised $150,000. The firm is courting academics to provide more courses, promising most of the income from a new paid-course system.

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