MOOCs Learning From, Adapting To Early Struggles

A recent study showed disappointing results with students who used online courses for their studies, forcing a rethink on how best to utilize the internet for higher education.

On average, only about half of those who registered for a course ever viewed a lecture — and just 4 percent completed the courses, according to study of a million users of massive open online courses (MOOCs) released this month by the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. Despite much of the hype surrounding MOOCs focusing on the promise of courses for students in poor countries with little access to higher education, about 80 percent of those taking the university’s MOOCs had already earned a degree of some kind.

According to Tamar Lewin of The New York Times, at San Jose State University, one of the most publicized MOOC experiments turned into a flop. MOOCs have not lived up to expectations, with low completion rates characterizing the program. The online students last spring, including many from a charter high school in Oakland, did worse than those who took the classes on campus despite access to Udacity, a Silicon Valley company co-founded by a Stanford artificial-intelligence professor Sebastian Thrun mentors. In July, the program was suspended and it remains unclear as to whether it will resume.

Even the loudest of critics do not expect San Jose to fade away despite their setback. Using videos from edX, a nonprofit MOOC venture, to supplement some classroom sessions, San Jose State is already getting better results.

A variety of online education platforms are experimenting to find where and how online classes are most valuable. edX is producing videos to use in some high school Advanced Placement classes; Coursera, the largest MOOC company, is experimenting with using its courses along with a facilitator in small discussion classes at United States consulates. Some MOOC pioneers are working with a different model, called connectivist MOOCs, which are more about the connections and communication among students than about the content delivered by a professor.

“It’s like, ‘The MOOC is dead, long live the MOOC,’ ” said Jonathan Rees, a Colorado State University-Pueblo professor who has expressed fears that the online courses would displace professors and be an excuse for cuts in funding. “At the beginning everybody talked about MOOCs being entirely online, but now we’re seeing lots of things that fall in the middle, and even I see the appeal of that.”

12 17, 2013
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