Date: Jan 16, 2013 3:04 PM
Author: Jerry P. Becker
Subject: As California Goes? [credits for MOOCs]
From INSIDE HIGHER ED, Wednesday, January 16, 2013. See
As California Goes?
By Paul Fain
California is the Fertile Crescent for massive open online course
providers, at least the for-profit ones. The state is also shaping up
as a testing ground for phase two of the MOOC experiment, which
includes fees and a path to college credit, and where public colleges
try to use material from MOOCs to help meet student demand in gateway
San Jose State University on Tuesday announced a deal with Udacity, a
major MOOC player, to create a pilot program of three online,
entry-level courses that will cost students $150 to take and lead to
university-awarded academic credits if passed. San Jose State
professors will teach the courses while Udacity contributes the
platform and staff support, including mentors who will help track and
encourage students' progress.
The university will cap enrollment at 100 for each of the three
courses, with half of the slots going to students from San Jose
State. Priority enrollment for the remaining 150 openings will go to
high school and community college students, members of the military
and veterans, and wait-listed San Jose State students -- all groups
who might find it harder to be admitted to the university amid heavy
student demand and tight budgets.
Meanwhile, California's community college system is exploring a
different approach with MOOCs.
Community college leaders in the state hope online courses can help
with the system's severe capacity crunch, which has accompanied years
of budget cuts. Nearly 500,000 students have been turned away by the
system's colleges during California's financial crisis. And MOOCs
could be part of the solution, albeit in an indirect way.
Many of the 112 colleges in the system offer "challenge exams" that
give students a chance to prove what they know for college credit.
Officials from the system's central office are working with faculty
leaders from the Academic Senate to consider creating examinations
for remedial courses and core general education courses for an
associate degree aimed at students who want to transfer to a
California State University campus. Students could use MOOCs to
prepare for challenge exams, and community colleges could steer them
toward the free online courses. And MOOC providers could tailor their
offerings to the exams and gateway courses.
Barry A. Russell, the system's vice chancellor for academic affairs,
said community colleges might consider publishing a "crosswalk" that
linked MOOCs to course requirements covered by an exam. However, he
said a move to standardize the tests, which vary widely across the
system, would likely require changes to state policy. The system
would also need to ensure that credits earned from challenge exams
would transfer to the state's public universities, he said.
Asked which MOOC providers system officials had been working with on
the project, Russell said the system's goal is to be "agnostic to the
provider," with the key for collaboration being courses that match up
with colleges' academic requirements.
The San Jose State announcement and the ongoing MOOC-related
exploration by California's community college haven't provoked
opposition by statewide faculty groups. Lillian Taiz, president of
the California Faculty Association, Cal State's primary faculty
union, said she likes that the Udacity agreement is contained to a
small trial group and includes a strong research emphasis.
"We're a little apprehensive about the MOOC model and the MOOC mania,
because there isn't a lot of research about it," said Taiz, who is a
history professor at the system's Los Angeles campus. But on the
whole, she said the association is "interested in seeing what comes
of the experiment."
On the community college side, some faculty members have been vocal
in arguing that the MOOC push could steamroll shared governance and
lead to online course offerings that are not up to snuff
Michelle Pilati, president of the Academic Senate, which represents
community college faculty, said faculty concerns about MOOCs are
serious. But for now, she said the system is proceeding with
"We have a good dialogue with the chancellor's office," said Pilati,
a professor of psychology at Rio Hondo College, who has taught
online. "As far as we know, there is nothing moving forward that we
would take issue with."
A crucial question, voiced by both faculty members and administrators
in California, is whether substantial numbers of students will give
MOOC platforms a whirl, and whether they will do what only a small
fraction of MOOC students do - actually complete the courses.
"It requires a special kind of student to succeed online," Pilati
said, particularly in a MOOC, where "they don't get a lot of help"
from faculty members.
Many uncertainties remain about the viability of MOOCs for use as
credit-bearing courses at public institutions, as officials said
repeatedly during the unveiling of San Jose State's partnership with
Udacity. But the general sentiment is that it's worth trying, sooner
rather than later.
"As the public university that sends 8,000 graduates annually into
the Silicon Valley work force, San Jose State must and will take a
leading role in leveraging technology to transform higher ed with the
goal of making a college degree affordable and accessible to all,"
Mohammad Qayoumi, San Jose State's president, said in a written
But as Qayoumi said at a San Jose State media event that was
broadcast on the Web, "this is not going to be easy."
Gov. Jerry Brown wants California's public institutions to take a
hard look at MOOCs. Along with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,
he is encouraging experimentation with MOOC platforms for
introductory and remedial courses. [see
Sebastian Thrun, a Stanford University computer science professor who
co-founded Udacity, said that Brown e-mailed and called him in June
to kick off discussions about a partnership with public universities
in the state. "We need your help," Thrun said Brown told him.
While the state's public institutions have plenty of experience in
online education, their emphasis in digital learning may be shifting.
The governor's budget proposal, released last week, puts a priority
on popular, often overbooked courses, while most previous online
efforts in the state have been housed in extension programs, which
are relatively expensive and often don't lead to credit.
Both the California State University and University of California
systems would receive $10 million under the budget proposal to expand
online courses. California's community college system would receive
"The focus should be on the courses that have the highest demand,
fill quickly and are prerequisites for many different degrees,"
according to the budget document.
Officials from San Jose State and Udacity said they will research the
results of their initial collaboration, which begins enrolling
students now. (Classes start at the end of the month.) The National
Science Foundation will help fund that research, which observers said
adds academic prestige to the experiment.
"This is an R&D project for us right now," said Timothy White, Cal
State's recently arrived chancellor, in the San Jose State media
event. He described the Udacity pilot program as "working out the
bugs for a handful of students in a handful of courses."
The three courses in the trial run will be pre-algebra, college
algebra and elementary statistics. The $150 tuition fee for them will
be a third of the $430 for a typical San Jose State course, according
to university officials.
Also on Tuesday, the American Council on Education said it was
reviewing the three courses and another Udacity offering for possible
credit recommendations. (See accompanying article at
The university will spend $15,000 to develop each course, Qayoumi
said. The $45,000 total will go to the professors who designed them.
Neither Udacity nor the university expects any profit from the
initial experiment, officials said. A university spokeswoman said she
had not yet seen the contract, which is still being finalized. In the
unlikely case that they reap net revenue, she said San Jose State
would keep 51 percent, with 49 percent going to Udacity.
Dean Florez, a former California state senator, said Governor Brown
is helping to push public institutions in the right direction with
MOOCs: toward the development of low-cost, credit-bearing courses.
Florez, who leads the 20 Million Minds Foundation, a California-based
nonprofit, said the governor seemed serious about his online push,
with upcoming visits to governing boards of the state's higher
education systems where he is likely to stress the need for
technology in expanding student access.
"The governor's on a roadshow for online education," Florez said.
San Jose State's credit-bearing MOOC hybrid follows several similar
experiments that have popped up around the country in recent months.
Most do not count as MOOCs -- the courses are not "open" in the pure
sense, because students must enroll in and pay for them.
The University of Texas System in October announced that it would
work with edX, a nonprofit MOOC provider formed by the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology and Harvard University, to make some
lower-level courses available as MOOCs. [see
] EdX is also helping two community colleges in Massachusetts to use
a MOOC as the course material for introductory computer science
classes, which will be taught by professors from the two colleges.
Coursera, the largest of the MOOC platforms, has also begun
developing fee-based courses that students can take to earn a more
substantial certificate. [see
]And the University of Washington is offering hybrid Coursera
courses, where students can take credit-bearing versions for $2,000.
Also on Tuesday, the State University of New York System announced a
broad online effort that it hopes will reach 100,000 students within
three years. The system is launching 10 online degree programs in the
fall, in high demand fields, and all 64 campuses will offer online
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244