After Weak Results, San Jose State Severs Udacity Partnership

Low completion and high failure rates have been plaguing online courses since their inception. These concerns were highlighted ast week after San Jose State University announced that it was ending its partnership with massive online open course provider Udacity after the courses offered as part of the pilot program showed that only between 20% and 44% of students passed them, writes Carla Rivera for the Los Angeles Times.

The goal of the partnership was to offer low-cost for-credit online alternatives to the common introductory and remedial classes. The pilot consisted of a remedial math, elementary statistics and college-level algebra courses. Limited to 100 students, the courses were funded in part by the National Science Foundation grant. Two additional courses – computer science and introduction to psychology – were added this summer. Each one cost $150 and ran without any outside funding.

Although 83% of students completed the courses, the low pass rates raised enough concerns for the school to discontinue both the pilot and the partnership.

Udacity CEO and co-founder Sebastian Thrun was unavailable for comment, but the university and the company released a joint statement explaining the decision.

A statement released by San Jose and Udacity outlined some areas of study:

"The improvements we are considering include developing introductory materials that will help students prepare for and engage in college-level online classes. We would also like to look at the impact of the frequency of quizzes for grades and other similar incentives to help students move through the material in a timely manner. Another focus will be to explore opportunities to move to open-registration, self-paced classes with student-set deadlines."
Junn said data are still being analyzed and that a full report would be available in early August.

Preliminary results indicate that students in traditional courses outperformed their peers enrolled in the online version by a substantial margin. That can be explained in part by a substantial number of students in online pilot not being enrolled in San Jose State and who were actually high school students from low-income families.

Rather puzzling was the large number of students from Oakland Military Institute. Three weeks into the course, instructors realized that OMI students didn't have access to computers.

Students in the summer courses received more orientation, and anecdotal evidence suggests their performance is better. Junn said pulling the courses for the fall term was a good time to "take a breather" as well as consult faculty who have expressed concerns about the direction of online education. The courses will be offered again next spring, she said.

The Udacity/San Jose State project was announced in January with much fanfare by Gov. Jerry Brown, who has been pushing the state's public universities to aggressively pursue online education.

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