San Jose State To Scale Back Online Collaboration With Udacity

In January 2013, San Jose University and Udacity formed a partnership to offer for-credit online courses for a fraction of the cost of the university's normal tuition. The pilot project featured two math courses and one statistics course, but after the initial results from the spring pilot, the university decided to put its partnership with Udacity on pause for the fall semester.

Now, San Jose University is scaling back its online initiative with Udacity. The university has decided to offer three online classes this spring. The courses – elementary statistics, introduction to programming and general psychology – will be open only to students enrolled at San Jose State or the other 22 Cal State campuses, writes Carla Rivera of The Los Angeles Times.

The university will offer the online classes through the campus online portal rather than Udacity's online platform. Fees will be covered by regular tuition. Also, the campus will hire and train its own teaching assistants to help students rather than use Udacity's support services.

The campus officials did not disclose whether the university is ending highly touted partnership with Udacity or not. However, officials acknowledged that Udacity will no longer have direct involvement with its online program. Also, it was not certain whether the courses would be offered beyond the spring semester.

"We're going to need time to figure out how we're going to move forward," said spokeswoman Pat Lopes Harris. San Jose State President Mohammad Qayoumi was not available for comment.

Limited internet experience and technical skills were problems for students, especially those in remedial classes. Students in remedial classes had high failure rates. Those taking summer classes performed better, but despite this the university put the project on hold this fall to make improvements.

One problem that apparently is unresolvable is Udacity's interest in allowing some students to complete work more quickly and others to take more time, Harris said.

"Udacity continues to discuss the possibility of asynchronicity rather than offering classes according to a traditional academic calendar," Harris said, "and that's a tough situation for San Jose State to address because we are entirely set up on the semester system."

The Udacity/San Jose State project was started in January and initial courses were remedial math, college-level algebra and elementary statistics offered at $150 per course. Later the courses were expanded to include the psychology and computer classes.

Udacity is still offering all five classes for students on a non-credit basis. Recently, Udacity founder Sebastian Thrun said that they are interested in focusing the for-profit, venture capital funded group more on job training. Despite dropout rates of about 90%, massive open online courses (MOOCs) have been gaining in popularity.

The Udacity/San Jose State collaboration and other well-publicized efforts have drawn considerable opposition from faculty and others who question the effectiveness of online courses.

"This reflects a reality check … and I hope it's a good sign of stepping back from the hype and looking at what pursuits like this offer to the university," said Lillian Taiz, president of the California Faculty Assn.

12 20, 2013
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