The advantage of learning from MOOC mistakes

When it comes to MOOCs, the University of New Mexico (UNM) is leapfrogging to the head of the line. By waiting until now to offer its first massive open online course, UNM has no doubt learned from mistakes made elsewhere.

MOOCs have been around for a few years. Initially, the MOOC promise was that it would democratize higher education by dramatically lowering costs and reaching out to unlimited numbers of students.

mooc-advantages-learningIn fact, two years ago The New York Times proclaimed 2012 the “Year of the MOOC.”

Since then, much of the hype has abated, and in August of last year the Chronicle of Higher Education observed that — at least in California — “the MOOC revolution came to a halt unceremoniously.”

Or, as National Public Radio put it last month, “if 2012 was the ‘Year of the MOOC’ … 2013 might be dubbed the year that online education fell back to earth.”

UNM will launch its first MOOC when Professor Greg Heileman’s class on Web Application Architectures gets underway in several weeks. Unlike many other MOOCs in which the course and content are provided by a non-university company, all of the content in Heileman’s course will come from UNM.

It will be information from a class he already teaches, although it will still be delivered via a private company’s technology.

It’s notable that Heileman, UNM’s associate provost for curriculum, was the one picked to launch UNM into the age of MOOCs.

In recent interviews, Heileman described his course as something of an experiment. UNM sees MOOCs as “the next step in distant education,” and has signed an agreement with the company Coursera that allows the university to place the content of Heileman’s course on Coursera’s delivery system.

The cost to the university was $3,000.


The MOOC stumble: Lessons from Napster

I have been a long time proponent of online education and have been offering webcasts of my classes since 2001. However, I was a little skeptical about the news stories that appeared a couple of years ago about massive open online courses (MOOCs) being the next “big thing” in education.

If a class were only about delivering content, a MOOC may do the job, but a good class should be (though it often is not) more than that.

mooc-lessons-napsterIt has to foster hands-on experience, interaction, excitement and “aha'” moments, and MOOCs (including mine) have not paid enough attention to these pieces.

Thus, as the initial buzz about MOOCs has faded, we are discovering the Achilles heels of online classes: high drop out rates and poor retention of knowledge. It is therefore not a surprise to read stories like this one about the failures of and financial troubles faced by MOOCs.

As is often the case, some journalists and analysts are over reacting to these news stories to conclude that online education is a failed venture.

Some of the more reactionary university administrators and faculty are gleeful and are ready to go back to what they have done for decades: take students for granted and cater to the other interest groups that feed at the higher education trough.

That would be a mistake, analogous to music companies reacting to the demise of Napster more than a decade ago by going back to their old modes of business (selling CDs through music stores), only to be swept away by Apple iTunes a few years later. The MOOC model represented the first serious foray of online entities into education and like Napster, it failed because it not only came with flaws but because it’s promoters failed to fully understand the business it was trying to disrupt.It is also worth noting that the failure of MOOCs really rests on your definition of the word “fail.”


MIT’s Big Data education set to get underway

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is offering its first professional learning course tackling the ins and outs of Big Data, a subject near and dear to educators and technologists hoping analytics can improve teaching, learning, and campus spending.

mit-big-data-educationThe Big Data course will be taught starting March 4 by MIT professors from the Computer Science Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at the School of Engineering.

The fee for this online four week open-sourced course is $495. MIT does not consider it a MOOC. It is offered as a professional development opportunity for those who want become subject matter experts on Big Data that will solve their company’s technological challenges.

Those who complete MIT’s Big Data class could use the subsequent certificate as a resume booster.

The course, “Tackling The Challenges of Big Data,” is not considered a massive open online course (MOOC) because the preferred participants are expected to have a bachelor’s degree in computer science or at least three years of technical work experience, said Kate McCary, an MIT spokeswoman. The class wasn’t designed for a general audience.

The Big Data course is open to technology experts worldwide.

“Big data technologies will help us better understand and improve the world around us,” said Daniela Rus, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT.

This course is the first under the university’s Online X Programs, the pilot program developed by a MIT and Harvard partnership called edX, a not-for-profit venture that has drawn students from around the world since its 2012 launch.

The program offers professional training and educational courses to technical professionals and technical managers, McCary said. It’s goal is to give companies the opportunity to train their employees on the topic of big data, encouraging new conversations and innovation.

“Tackling the Challenges of Big Data” is the first MIT online training program designed specifically for professionals who might not be able to participate on location at MIT.


MOOCs give new meaning to CSU’s mission of outreach and education

Colorado State University has given new meaning to its mission of education and outreach through a new series of free online courses, popularly known as MOOCs (massive open online courses), The Coloradoan reports.

The latest MOOC offered through the University’s OnlinePlus division gets to the core of what Colorado State is all about. “Water, Civilization, and Nature: Addressing Water Challenges of the 21st Century” makes the expertise of the University’s world-class water resources faculty available to anyone with an internet connection anywhere in the world, for free.

“This MOOC is a new way for our faculty to share the breadth and depth of their water research,” explained Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute and CSU Water Center, and featured faculty in the new Water MOOC. “We hope this course inspires students to think more deeply about water, and offers a fun and different way to learn more about water issues.”

Waskom and nine other Colorado State faculty with expertise in water resources tackle a wide range of water-related issues like climate change, public health, diplomacy, natural disasters, and more in the free online course that begins Jan. 27.

Read more


Predixion pushes Big Data analytics into schools

Predixion Software is providing its data analytics products at no charge to universities, joining many other vendors in seeking future sales among the next generation of data scientists, CruxialCIO reports.

On Jan. 28 the company launched the Predixion in the Classroom (PIC) program, which provides the company’s software and related training materials. The program gives students hands-on experience in building predictive models and analyzing large data sets to extract useful business intelligence.

Educational institutions already using Predixion products for free include the University of Washington, University of Western Michigan, St. Joseph University and the University of Maryland University College.

Many tech companies provide schools with software at no charge for use in the classroom or sell their products under an educational license to students and faculty at reduced prices.

Read more


Online education is trying very hard to make itself more respectable

I’m currently enrolled in a free online Coursera class on terrorism through a university located in the Netherlands, in which I watch lectures and complete assignments from the comfort of my couch, ReadWriter reports.

As much as I enjoy the subject matter, though, completing the course in a timely fashion while maintaining a work-life balance has proven challenging.

I almost gave it up.

Instead of quitting altogether, I paid Coursera $49 to give me a “completion certificate” so I’ll have a reward when I complete the course. Putting actual money on the line turned out to be all the incentive I needed to keep going.

Online education services like Udacity and Coursera bank on students like me to drive them to success. And if recent online course offerings are any indication, this year we might start to see a trend towards legitimacy and profitability that proves open education has staying power among the multitasking masses.

2013 proved to be a banner year for online education. Massive open online courses, sometimes called MOOCs, surged in popularity, due to advanced offerings and a promise to make university-level education accessible. But these companies also faced considerable scrutiny.

In attempting to disrupt traditional education and become a standard of online learning, MOOCs suffered very low retention and completion rates as well as skepticism surrounding their business models. Coursera, one of the most popular online education companies, averaged a retention rate of just four percent across all courses, according to Coursera cofounder Daphne Koller.

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Distance learning: who’s doing it now?

Distance learning is nothing new. In 1938, the International Council for Correspondence Education was founded in Canada, The Guardian reports.

In the same year, they held their first world conference, attended by 87 delegates. Only three of them weren’t from America or Canada.

By 1950, the situation hadn’t improved much – attendees came from just one or two countries – so in a desperate attempt to make sure that the conference lived up to its international title, the organisers invited people to participate by audio presentation. It was a revolution.

Something else was changing correspondence education that would draw it closer to what we now recognise as distance learning. Back then, when Australia was the world’s forerunner – 100,000 people had taken correspondence courses there in the years after the war – most of it had been in primary education. Gradually, the emphasis began to move towards adult and further education. Men and women from the armed services were among those seeking to retrain themselves.

Though the UK’s Open University (OU) wasn’t established until 1969, its history stretches back much further. In fact, as early as 1925, when the BBC was a fledgling broadcaster, JC Stobart was its first director of education. A year later he wrote a memo to colleagues that advocated a “wireless university”.

Read more


Educators increasingly wary of online course retention

Academic leaders are more worried about retention rates in online courses now than they have been in at least a decade, a new report said.

retention-online-courseForty-one percent of chief academic officers said they agreed that retaining students was a greater problem for online courses than for face-to-face classes.

Only 28 percent of respondents felt this way about retention in 2009, and only 27 percent concurred in 2004.

The concerns about student retention were highlighted in a recent survey conducted by Babson Survey Research Group, Pearson, and the Sloan Consortium. The survey featured nearly 3,000 institutions responding to questions about online learning.

“Comparing the retention in online courses to those in face-to-face courses is not simple or easy,” the report’s authors wrote. “Online courses can attract students who might otherwise have not been able to attend traditional on-campus instruction because of work, family, or other obligations.”

Low retention rates have been at the center of the debate surrounding massive open online courses (MOOCs).

The average completion rate for non-credit MOOCs is between seven and 10 percent. When San Jose State University and Udacity partnered to offer for-credit MOOCs last year, as much as 75 percent of students failed some of the courses.

More than 60 percent of the students were not enrolled in a degree program at the university. Out of the matriculated San Jose State students taking the remedial math MOOC, every one of them had previously failed a remedial math class.


More good news for the hybrid learning model

New study finds that hybrid learning and traditional instruction adds value to a student’s education.


Hybrid courses combine the benefits of online and face-to-face instruction.

A new report published in the Higher Education Academy reveals what many in the ed-tech community have long suspected: incorporating technology in the classroom along with traditional teaching practices improves student learning.

Technology, for example, can enhance the way students perform in certain subjects by using applications such as adaptive tests which determines question difficulty based on previous answers, and innovations in education including multimedia and digital projects can help reduce cheating.

The real challenge for higher ed leaders is keeping up with the rapidly changing innovations in technology and education, while finding innovative ways to incorporate new learning methods in curricula.

eCampus News has extensive coverage of how the latest technologies can help colleges and universities deliver instruction more effectively and enrich the student experience.

  • Derek Bruff, director for teaching at Vanderbilt University, shares his views on what impact a $750,000 grant for the creation of two massive open online courses (MOOCs) on evidence-based teaching practices for future STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) faculty. Read the full article here.
  • eCampus News Assistant Editor Jake New reports on the disparity between public and private universities in the adoption and implementation of online learning and new technologies. Read the full article here.

What types of technologies do you include along with traditional classroom instruction? Share your views and opinions with us by leaving a comment in the section below and by following the conversation on Twitter @ecampusnews. You can contact managing editor Denny Carter @eCN_Denny and assistant editor Jake New @eCN_Jake.


Bursting the MOOC bubble

After a couple of years basking in the spotlight, the tide seems to have turned in MOOC-land. We seem to be heading for the dreaded trough of disillusionment.

Diana Laurillard, in Five myths about MOOCs, bursts some of the inflated claims made about MOOCs in recent months. The main point is that education is not mass production.

bursting-mooc-bubbleMOOCs offer a well-designed content package for self-study but providing thousands of students with qualified guidance and facilitation simply does not scale. Many MOOC providers are experimenting with peer learning, encouraging participants to give feedback to each other and assess each other’s work.

While it is true that more experienced students are able to provide competent peer review and assessment, this is not true of inexperienced learners unused to both higher education and the online environment. Students are not as self-sufficient as we sometimes imagine.

In reply to this it could be argued that many undergraduate campus courses are not so good at providing qualified feedback and face-to-face tuition.

All higher education requires the student to be highly self-sufficient and success depends very much on developing good peer networks for discussion and feedback. MOOCs of course take this self-sufficiency to an extreme.

However as the focus in education moves towards learning how to learn I believe we will certainly see future generations becoming more self-sufficient and better at peer learning. We aren’t there yet but that movement has already started.

“The simple fact is that a course format that copes with large numbers by relying on peer support and assessment is not an undergraduate education. Education is not a mass customer industry: it is a personal client industry. The significant initial investment required in the preparation of educational resources can be distributed over very large student numbers and repeated runs of the course, but education is fundamentally about learning concepts and skills that we do not acquire naturally through our normal interaction with the world. And this takes time. It requires personalised guidance, which is simply not scalable in the same way. This is what the private educational sector continues to ignore, and it is why every new idea for solving the problem of mass education with technology falls flat.”