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Topic: The Online Education Revolution Drifts Off Course
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Jerry P. Becker

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Registered: 12/3/04
The Online Education Revolution Drifts Off Course
Posted: Jan 4, 2014 5:34 PM
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From NPR [National Public Radio], Tuesday, December 31, 2013. See
The Online Education Revolution Drifts Off Course

By Eric Westervelt

One year ago, many were pointing to the growth of massive open online
courses, or MOOCs, as the most important trend in higher education.
Many saw the rapid expansion of MOOCs as a higher education
revolution that would help address two long-vexing problems: access
for underserved students and cost.

In theory, students saddled by rising debt and unable to tap into the
best schools would be able to take free classes from rock star
professors at elite schools via Udacity, edX, Coursera and other MOOC

But if 2012 was the "Year of the MOOC," as The New York Times
famously called it, 2013 might be dubbed the year that online
education fell back to earth. Faculty at several institutions
rebelled against the rapid expansion of online learning - and the
nation's largest MOOC providers are responding.

Earlier this year, San Jose State University partnered with Udacity
to offer several types of for-credit MOOC classes at low cost. The
partnership was announced in January with lots of enthusiastic
publicity, including a plug from California Gov. Jerry Brown, who
said MOOC experiments are central to democratizing education.

"We've got to invest in learning, in teaching, in education," he
said. "And we do that not by just the way we did it 100 years ago. We
keep changing."

But by all accounts, the San Jose experiment was a bust. Completion
rates and grades were worse than for those who took traditional
campus-style classes. And the students who did best weren't the
underserved students San Jose most wanted to reach.

It wasn't really proving to be cheaper, either, says Peter Hadreas,
the chairman of San Jose State's philosophy department.

"The people that do well in these kind of courses are people who are
already studious. Or ... who are taking courses for their own
enrichment after they've graduated," he says.

"A year and a half ago ... people thought this was going to solve the
problems of higher education because people would be educated for
less money. That's not the way it's worked out."

Now, San Jose State is scaling back its relationship with Udacity,
taking more direct control of the courses it offers through the
company and rethinking its commitment to MOOCs.

'We Have A Lousy Product'

Other schools are hitting the pause button as well. A recent
University of Pennsylvania study confirmed a massive problem: MOOCs
have painfully few active users. About half who registered for a
class ever viewed a lecture, and completion rates averaged just 4
percent across all courses.

Sebastian Thrun, Udacity's co-founder and a prime mover in MOOCs,
recently told Fast Company magazine, "We were on the front pages of
newspapers and magazines, and at the same time, I was realizing, we
don't educate people as others wished, or as I wished. We have a
lousy product."
Thrun says he doesn't regret that position. "I think that's just
honest, and I think we should have an honest discourse about what we
do," he says.

"Online education that leaves almost everybody behind except for
highly motivated students, to me, can't be a viable path to
education. We look back at our early work and realize it wasn't quite
as good as it should have been. We had so many moments for

That the former Stanford professor and inventor - whose online
artificial intelligence course helped kick off the MOOC frenzy - was
fundamentally rethinking its viability shook the higher education

What was missing, many students complained, was a human connection
beyond the streamed lecture.

That's what Tracy Wheeler found lacking. This year she immersed
herself in five MOOCs from two providers and completed three,
including a course on global poverty. She had read the professor's
book and was excited and upbeat.

"I thought I'd go in deeper and come out wanting to move to India and
help her with one of her experiments," she says.
SIDEBAR: Students at the Oakland Military Institute took several
courses offered by San Jose State and the online course provider
Udacity this year. The university is now scaling back its
relationship with Udacity. Laura A. Oda/MCT/Landov
SIDEBAR: We look back at our early work and realize it wasn't quite
as good as it should have been. We had so many moments for
improvement. - Sebastian Thrun, co-founder of MOOC provider Udacity
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

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