On September 11, San Jose State University released a detailed report on its online education pilot project with the massive open online courses (MOOC) provider Udacity. The report provides a look into how the pilot project has fared in the wake of initial negative results and criticism closely-monitored by schools nationwide hoping to grow their online education presence.
In January, San Jose University and Udacity announced 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.
Last month San Jose University released results from a summer pilot that showed increased retention and student pass rates. However, those reports barely scratched the surface of the data the university collected during the project.
Funded by the National Science Foundation, the full-research report suggests that it may be difficult for the university to deliver online education in this format that rivals their traditional offerings, writes Carl Straumsheim in Inside Higher Ed.
According to the report, the research team encountered many setbacks as it began to evaluate results from the spring pilot project. The team collected data from Udacity that tracked how students used instructional resources and accessed support services. The team then had to spend several weeks awaiting clarifications and corrections to resolve accuracy questions, according to the report.
The research team included of members from the Research and Planning Group for California Community Colleges and Sutee Sujitparapitaya, associate vice president for institutional research at San Jose State.
In addition to Udacity data, the team evaluated results of student responses to three surveys. The first survey showed that 39% of students had never before taken an online course.
"The unfamiliarity with the new platform meant less than half "partially understood" the online support services available to them, including video conferencing with faculty members and discussion forums."
Also, four in every five students said that they wanted more help with the content. Few student were able to schedule appointments with faculty members during office hours.
Research has shown that at-risk students tend to struggle in online classes, said the education consultants Michael Feldstein and Phil Hill. That disadvantaged students enrolled in SJSU Plus courses posted similarly poor pass rates suggests the spring pilot was rushed, they said.
Compared to the spring pilot, student pass rates were superior in the summer pilot, with two-thirds of students receiving a C or better in four of five of the courses. However, results in the remedial math course still lagged, with less than one-third of students receiving a passing grade.
In addition, the summer pilot featured a vastly different student population. There were 53% of students with a postsecondary degree, including some doctoral degree holders. Only 15% were active high school students compared to about half of the spring pilot's students.