Udacity, San Jose State University Partnership Improves Results

After a high-profile retreat from its partnership with online education provider Udacity over poor results, San Jose State University has released the results of its online summer session — and things are looking up.

According to Carla Rivera of Los Angeles Times, the summer session result was better than spring session result with 83% of summer students in elementary statistics earned a C or better compared to 50.5% students in the spring. Also, 72.6% of summer college algebra students made the grade compared to just 25.4% of those in the spring.

Students who took online classes in a summer program at San Jose State University performed better than those who took the same online classes in the spring, a result that is likely to provide a boost to a highly touted but problem-plagued collaboration between the campus and an online provider.

For remedial math, the pass rates improved somewhat, reaching nearly 30% for summer students compared with 24% for those in the spring. Also, students in two new summer classes performed well, with 67% earning a C or better in general psychology and 70% achieving that level in computer programming.

Officials said they were encouraged by the developments, especially after the disappointing spring results raised a host of critical questions about the highly watched project with Udacity, a Mountain View-based online course provider.

In January 2013, San Jose State University announced plans to enroll up to 300 students in three introductory online courses for a $150 fee, which was a deep discount from the usual cost of more than $2,000. After a low pass rate, Udacity and the university has decided in July to suspend the program for the fall semester to fine-tune many aspects of the project.

Sebastian Thrun, co-founder and CEO of Udacity, said that critics were ready to declare the online experiment a failure too early and did not understand how innovation works.

“The way these new ideas work is that it takes multiple iterations before you get there,” Thrun said in an interview. “It’s not perfect and we have a lot to learn, but I’m happy about it.” A major factor in the differing results was the makeup of the students themselves, Thrun said. Less than half of the spring group was enrolled in San Jose State; many taking the classes were local high school students from low-income areas. Of the 2,091 students who enrolled in summer classes, 71% were from other states or foreign countries and about 11% were enrolled in one of Cal State’s 23 campuses.