San Jose Online Education Project Hits Unforeseen Costs, Challenges

San Jose State’s ambitious online education experiment has revealed some unforeseen challenges to the implementation of online classes. Some of the pilot students at Oakland Military Institute simply didn’t have access to a computer or the proper bandwidth required for the online class, reports Katy Murphy of the Oakland Tribune.

This was discovered two weeks into the online math course when San Jose State called the Oakland charter school to inform them that some of the students had not been logging in. The school had to provide laptops to students at a significant unexpected cost so they could complete the course work.

This showed the divide between low-income and technology-driven educators and pointed out the challenges of providing a low-cost online education.

Students also required extra personal attention to complete the coursework, with additional class time set aside to make sure they stayed on top of assignments.

In January, San Jose State and the online educational startup Udacity teamed up to test the idea of offering for-credit college courses to anyone with a high-speed Internet connection, including high school students. The San Jose State Plus pilot started small — three remedial and entry-level math courses, a cap of 100 students per course at $150 each offered for high school, community college and university students.

Governor Jerry Brown was excited about the possibilities that online education could provide for students who have lives that aren’t conducive to a traditional college structure or who need more preparation for college courses.

But giving more students access to college classes is not enough, say some who work with poor and first-generation college students. They are more likely to graduate if they have academic support and involvement in campus life, said Sara Melnick, deputy director of the National College Access Network.

The courses turned out to be a large investment for Oakland Military Institute, a school with 700 students grades 6 through 12. The school had to devote most of its computer lab space, equipment and staff to the online course, which just 45 students were enrolled in. A donation covered the course fees.

The students, however, had a positive experience with the program. They reportedly enjoyed the types of learning options it allowed including video and online tutors. The course allowed them to move at their own pace and go over material as much as necessary to grasp the concepts.

But the fiscal realities of online learning, including addressing challenges that are sometimes impossible to predict accurately, continue to be an issue for pioneering districts eager to broaden their students’ access to education.