San Jose State, Udacity ‘pausing’ for-credit MOOC partnership

Udacity’s CEO Sebastian Thrun announces a partnership between the MOOC platform and SJSU in January 2013. The project is now on hiatus.

San Jose State University’s president, Mo Qayoumi, said he hoped it would be “a game-changer.” California Governor Jerry Brown said it could be a “key part of the solution” to better student outcomes in the state.

But the key may not yet be the right fit.

San Jose State and massive open online course (MOOC) platform Udacity are “pausing” a much-touted partnership that granted college credit for MOOCs, throwing a potential wrench in the state of California’s online education plans.

The project, called SJSU+, allowed students to earn credit by taking certain Udacity MOOCs and paying $150 per course. It was seen as an important, and high-profile, step in an effort to lower the cost of higher education in California, where tuition has skyrocketed over the past decade.

A primary reason for putting the project on hold was the low number of students who were actually passing the courses, according to a statement released by the university. The completion rates for the courses were around 83 percent, which is far higher than most MOOCs. But the pass rates hovered between just 20 and 44 percent.

“While the pilot gave many students the opportunity they would not have otherwise had to earn college credit and move closer to their academic goals, we will be pausing enrollment in SJSU+ until the spring in order to work with SJSU on improving the student experience,” Udacity said in a statement. “In the meantime, SJSU MOOC courses will continue to remain available and we encourage students to avail themselves of this learning opportunity offered by SJSU.”

See Page 2 for how other universities and platforms are faring in the push to grant MOOC credit.

During the hiatus, San Jose State and Udacity will develop introductory materials to help students better prepare for online college courses, the university stated. They will also explore the effect that incentives such as graded quizzes have on how quickly students move through a course.

The university cited broad differences in the courses’ demographics as one of the major challenges the project needs to address.

Twenty percent of the participants were not college students, but were students from a Title I high school. More than 60 percent of the participants were not enrolled in a degree program at San Jose State. 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 than three-quarters of students enrolled in the MOOCs were balancing school work with jobs, the university said.

“We are eager to improve the student experience and build upon what we learn along the way,” the university said. “We remain committed about next steps and our ongoing collaboration to innovate online learning.”

Udacity and San Jose State are not alone in failing to successfully implement a for-credit MOOC. Despite more and more universities partnering with MOOC providers, and millions of dollars being invested in these companies, retention rates remain low, as does their ability to turn a profit.

Last fall, Colorado State University-Global Campus offered a for-credit MOOC for even cheaper than the San Jose State project. To date, no students have taken advantage of the deal.

At the time of SJSU+’s announcement, Sebastian Thrun, a Stanford Professor and Udacity’s CEO, cautioned that the project was just an experiment. Indeed, he said that if enough students did not successfully complete the courses, then they would have to rethink the concept.

“There’s a big if here, because we are very skeptical ourselves whether this actually works,” Thrun said at a January press conference. “We set it up as an experiment of scale, but we don’t know if this is a viable path to education.”

At the same conference, Brown seemed to expect some hiccups along the way as well.

“Failure is the precursor for success,” he said.

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