kitchen table math, the sequel: all MOOC all the time

Thursday, February 21, 2013

all MOOC all the time

The Times ran a terrific editorial on MOOCs yesterday:
The Trouble With Online College
Published: February 18, 2013

Stanford University ratcheted up interest in online education when a pair of celebrity professors attracted more than 150,000 students from around the world to a noncredit, open enrollment course on artificial intelligence. This development, though, says very little about what role online courses could have as part of standard college instruction....

...First, student attrition rates — around 90 percent for some huge online courses — appear to be a problem even in small-scale online courses when compared with traditional face-to-face classes. Second, courses delivered solely online may be fine for highly skilled, highly motivated people, but they are inappropriate for struggling students who make up a significant portion of college enrollment and who need close contact with instructors to succeed.

Online classes are already common in colleges, and, on the whole, the record is not encouraging. According to Columbia University’s Community College Research Center, for example, about seven million students — about a third of all those enrolled in college — are enrolled in what the center describes as traditional online courses. These typically have about 25 students and are run by professors who often have little interaction with students. Over all, the center has produced nine studies covering hundreds of thousands of classes in two states, Washington and Virginia. The picture the studies offer of the online revolution is distressing.

The research has shown over and over again that community college students who enroll in online courses are significantly more likely to fail or withdraw than those in traditional classes, which means that they spend hard-earned tuition dollars and get nothing in return. Worse still, low-performing students who may be just barely hanging on in traditional classes tend to fall even further behind in online courses.

A five-year study, issued in 2011, tracked 51,000 students enrolled in Washington State community and technical colleges. It found that those who took higher proportions of online courses were less likely to earn degrees or transfer to four-year colleges. The reasons for such failures are well known. Many students, for example, show up at college (or junior college) unprepared to learn, unable to manage time and having failed to master basics like math and English.....
O brave new world!


Luke Holzmann said...

Maybe I'm missing it... but I don't see how this reflects poorly on online classes at all. It does, however, indicate that many of these students are unmotivated and/or ill-prepared for online courses. But the courses themselves seem rigorous and effective. The biggest compliant that I see here is that "hard-earned tuition dollars" are being wasted. This is definitely not a problem for free courses.

Further, I'd be interested to know how many students drop out because they discover the course is "pointless" to them. I took some classes in college that were mostly a waste of time. If an online option allowed me to more easily access the classes that mattered and skip the ones that didn't apply to me... that's seems like it'd be a good thing.

That's what popped into my head as I read this.


MagisterGreen said...

To my mind it's not so much a knock against online courses as it is against their image, or the facade that's been crafted around them. The notion that online courses
1) represent some fundamental sea change in the way teaching and learning occur, and
2) online courses will be better ways for students to access education, opening up more options and opportunities
(This may not be the entire reality, but it's certainly what I see and hear being said about online education, and I'm not at the university level)

What I get from this is that most students don't do well outside of the structure and, yes, peer pressure of a traditional in-person classroom and those who do are the same sorts who would learn well if you gave them a library card. Sure, the students are somewhat to blame but information like this helps to deflate the (at times patently ridiculous) aura of effectiveness and superiority that online learning is enjoying right now.

cranberry said...

A solution which will leave no-one happy: allow students who don't pass placement tests to take the first courses online, for free. If they can't handle the online course, they are not likely to graduate.

It is not fair for colleges to accept students who are not prepared for college. It is wrong to accept tuition payments (non-dischargeable student debt!) from people you know will not graduate. Isn't that known as a sucker bet?

Anonymous said...

I don't see the problem.

We've tried bringing the horse to the water, we've tried bringing the water to the horse, we've tried holding the horse's head up and pouring the water in, but the horse still isn't swallowing the water. Maybe the horse isn't thirsty.

ChemProf said...

I think cranberry puts her finger on the disruptive part of this -- it isn't the well prepared student who is applying to the Ivies or top publics or Catholic schools, it is the unprepared student going to the local community college, acquiring debt, then dropping out. Many of these students would be better served with free MOOCs, even if they wind up dropping out because that's what was going to happen anyway. The question is whether weaker privates and publics who serve students with low odds of graduating will survive, not whether residential colleges will survive in general. And also what free alternatives might do to federal financial aid, which is propping up a lot of schools.

But it is all a cost argument, not a quality of experience argument. And unless there is also a change in credentialing, where an alternative to the BA becomes accepted, it won't really be disruptive at all. That's the disruptive piece, not online education in general.

Lsquared said...

I will say that what the Times reports fits with what I see. Students who know how to be good students and are appropriately prepared for the class do fine in the online classes I teach. Students who aren't as good at being university students, and/or who have a weaker background flounder. It's not easier to teach or to take a class online--it's harder for all concerned so far as I can tell. So, while online classes are interesting and perhaps exciting, I don't see them driving in person college classes out of existence (a persistent rumor).

GoogleMaster said...

I'm currently taking 3 technical courses from Coursera. (The start dates were staggered, so I'm in weeks 6, 2, and 1 of 8, 7, and 7.)

In the first class, we recently had a two-week assignment for which we had to do an analysis and a writeup, submit the writeup, peer-grade at least four other students' writeups, and then self-assess our own writeup.

The page on which the submissions and assessments happened had a very helpful dynamic flow diagram at the top. If you hadn't submitted, then the submit box said you need to submit. If you had submitted but hadn't peer-assessed, the submit box was green but the peer-assess box was highlighted.

If you had peer-assessed but hadn't self-assessed, the self-assess box was highlighted and there was some text that told you that if you didn't self-assess, you would be penalized by 20% of your peer-assessed points.

Despite the helpful flow diagram and text, this morning there were several posts in the course discussion forum to the effect of, "Hey, why was I penalized 20%?"

To top that, remember I said we're in week six? Today someone posted, "I just found out that there was a quiz 4 that I missed. I didn't know that we would have a quiz on the same week that the assignment was due."

Note: There are at least three pages on the course site where it is clearly stated that week 4 has a quiz, and when it was due.

Did I mention that this course is usually a graduate-level course at Johns Hopkins?

Some people just need too much handholding to be successful at life.

Anonymous said...

There are some excellent points made in the comments on this article that I got to linked from a post that was linked from a post that was linked from a post on Joanne's blog.