Posts tagged ‘on-line learning’
Released emails suggest that one of the reasons that the University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors ousted President Teresa Sullivan was that she was resistant to online education:
Various theories have been traded among UVa-watchers in the last 10 days about the source of conflict between Sullivan and the board, and the e-mail records suggest that online education may have been among them. In her statement on the day the board announced Sullivan’s departure, Dragas used language similar to some of the columns that were being shared among board members, saying “We also believe that higher education is on the brink of a transformation now that online delivery has been legitimized by some of the elite institutions.”
Sullivan is not quoted at length in the e-mail files that were released, but one from an alumnus/donor to Kington says that Sullivan provided a “pedestrian” answer to a question about how UVa was embracing the online education revolution. Sullivan is not responding to press inquiries at this time, but sources familiar with discussions she has had on distance education said that she viewed it as an important trend, but had expressed skepticism about the idea that it was a quick fix to solving financial problems, and that she viewed distance education as having the potential to cost a lot of money without delivering financial gains. Sources also said she viewed distance education as an issue on which faculty input was crucial.
I’m just back from the ACM Education Council meeting, where Mehran Sahami put together a stellar panel on the topic of on-line education (also covered in LisaK’s blog):
- Woodie Flowers (MIT) who supports on-line training but believes that real education likely requires some “presence.” I mentioned previously that he’s been critical of MIT’s edX initiative. He emphasized the need to have higher quality educational software, using Avatar as his exemplar.
- Candice Thille (Carnegie Mellon University) who heads OLI and had the best research support for the forms of online education that they’re developing. She started with a great quote from Herb Simon, “Improvement in post-secondary education will require converting teaching from a solo sport to a community-based research activity.” She emphasized the team approach they use to build their software.
- John Mitchell (Stanford) who leads the online education effort there. He led the charge in implying enormous changes for higher education. ”Will community colleges survive? How? Will college teaching follow the path of journalism?”
- Peter Norvig (head of research at Google) who co-taught the 100K student on-line AI course was honest and pragmatic. He started on this because he wanted to do more than a book. He felt that the students really felt a “personal connection” with him, but when pressed, agreed that we don’t actually have much evidence of that. He sees the biggest role of these online courses is for updating skills and re-training. He says that the technology just isn’t good enough yet. For example, the current tools don’t really respond to feedback — they’re linear experiences with no remediation or mechanisms for providing missing background knowledge.
- Dave Patterson (Berkeley) who taught a MOOC (Massive Open On-line Course) on programming Web services. He was honest about the limitations of MOOCs, but still convinced that this is the beginning of the end for existing higher education. He pointed out that he also had a 90% dropout rate. He was the first MOOC teacher I’ve heard admit to “unbounded, worldwide cheating.” They were going to use plagiarism detection software, just to see how much cheating was going on, but they didn’t need to. Large numbers of answers were “bit identical.”
One of the most important points for me was when Eric Roberts of Stanford pushed back against the flood of support for MOOCs, pointing out the costs of on-line education in terms of their impact on small schools, on general (especially legislators’) perception of the role of higher-education, and on what we teach (e.g., the media might encourage us to teach what we can easily do in these on-line forms, as opposed to what we think is important). ”Does ‘free’ wipe-out other things with demonstrable value?” Dave Patterson responded saying, “It doesn’t matter. It’s going to happen.”
I thought I heard McLuhan rolling over in his grave. ”Media choices don’t matter?!?”
But as I thought about it some more, it was less obvious to me which side McLuhan would fall on. On the one hand, McLuhan (in Understanding Media) argued that we should be aware of the implications of our media, of how our media change us. That view of McLuhan suggests that he would side with Eric, in thinking through the costs of the media, and he would be furious that Dave was unwilling to consider those implications. On the other hand, McLuhan would agree with Dave that media do obsolete some things (even things we value) while enhancing other things, and these media effects do just “happen.” Are we as a society powerless to choose media, to avoid those with effects that we dislike?
I see what happened at UVa to be about this question exactly. It’s not obvious to me that the MOOC efforts are better than existing higher education, in terms of reach into society, in terms of effectiveness for learning, and in terms of constructing the society we want. They serve a need, but they don’t replace colleges (as of yet). Teresa Sullivan’s concerns expressed above are well-founded, and she was wise to be hesitant. On the other hand, as Dave Patterson said, “It’s going to happen.” The UVa President may have been run-over because she didn’t hop on the train fast enough for her Board of Visitors. Can we consider and choose our media, based on the implications we want, or must we accept the new media as inevitable and get pushed out of the way if we don’t embrace those media — even though those media could possibly destroy the institutions we believe serve an important need?
I found this piece on MITx interesting in contrast with my visit to Stanford. At Stanford, it’s pretty clear that they’re doing the on-line courses because the faculty want them. This article suggests that, at MIT, the administration (mostly represented in this piece by an interview with the MIT Chancellor) wants the courses, but the faculty are more dubious.
In a provocative essay in the latest edition of MIT’s faculty newsletter, Woodie Flowers, an emeritus professor of mechanical engineering, draws a distinction between training and education. “Education is much more subtle and complex and is likely to be accomplished through mentorship or apprentice-like interactions between a learner and an expert,” Flowers wrote, quoting from one of his own lectures. The “sweet spot for expensive universities such as MIT,” he continued, is a blend of “highly-produced training systems” and a high-touch apprenticeship model that emphasizes direct interactions between faculty and students. “MITx,” Flowers contends, “seems aimed at neither”
Samuel Allen, a professor of metallurgy and chair of the MIT faculty, wrote an essay for the same issue of the newsletter that struck a less critical tone but also raised questions about the implications of inexpensive online iterations of the university’s curricular offerings. “If MITx is wildly successful, what is the future of the residential education experience that has been our mode of teaching for MIT’s entire history?” Allen wrote. “If students can master course materials online for free (or for a modest ‘credentialing’ fee), what incentives would there be for anyone to invest in an expensive residential college education?”
Students doing more homework isn’t as effective for student learning. Homework can influence learning, if it’s quality homework. But if quality of learning is not the outcome variable that we care about, then homework is not an issue. We can just have students watch videos instead.
The quantity of students’ homework is a lot less important than its quality. And evidence suggests that as of now, homework isn’t making the grade. Although surveys show that the amount of time our children spend on homework has risen over the last three decades, American students are mired in the middle of international academic rankings: 17th in reading, 23rd in science and 31st in math, according to results from the Program for International Student Assessment released last December.
In a 2008 survey, one-third of parents polled rated the quality of their children’s homework assignments as fair or poor, and 4 in 10 said they believed that some or a great deal of homework was busywork. A new study, coming in the Economics of Education Review, reports that homework in science, English and history has “little to no impact” on student test scores. (The authors did note a positive effect for math homework.) Enriching children’s classroom learning requires making homework not shorter or longer, but smarter.
Fortunately, research is available to help parents, teachers and school administrators do just that. In recent years, neuroscientists, cognitive scientists and educational psychologists have made a series of remarkable discoveries about how the human brain learns. They have founded a new discipline, known as Mind, Brain and Education, that is devoted to understanding and improving the ways in which children absorb, retain and apply knowledge.
A new report from the US Department of Education is touting the effectiveness of on-line courses as compared to face-to-face classes. Note that there’s a significant flaw in the meta-analysis, which appears in the Dept of Ed report (page xvii in the Executive Summary), but not in the “Inside Higher Ed” article: The meta-analysis did not consider failure/retention rates, because too few of the studies controlled for failure rates. Another meta-analysis that appeared in “Review of Educational Research” a couple years ago found that on-line courses have double the failure rates of face-to-face classes. If you flunk out twice as many students, yes, you do raise the average performance since you have fewer students left and they’re the ones who scored higher. Face-to-face classes have the advantage of being a regular constant pressure to stay engaged, to keep showing up.
The grand challenge of on-line learning is how to motivate the students to complete the course without raising costs (e.g., through the teacher spending more time on-line, through production of higher-quality materials, etc.)