U. Texas invests $5M in edX to increase completion rates: Justified?

October 18, 2012 at 9:08 am 9 comments

I guess what Agarwal says is true: Just because the first MOOCs have been “particularly challenging” with low completion rates does not  mean that a MOOC could not work for “less well-prepared students.”  But, it also gives us no reason to believe that they could succeed.  Lots of people are hoping that MOOCs will succeed at lower-level classes, at increasing completion rates.  Would you invest $5M (of taxpayer money) explicitly to improve completion rates over face-to-face classes, when MOOC’s currently have lower completion rates than face-to-face classes?  NSF grants are for far less money, and demand much higher expectations of return (though one might argue that NSF should go after riskier investments).  Or maybe the situation in higher education (especially U. Texas) is so dire, that MOOCs are considered a last-chance effort?

But for Anant Agarwal, the president of edX, poor retention in the early courses, which were built to be particularly challenging, does not mean a MOOC aimed at less well-prepared students is doomed to fail.

“That is one of the particular exciting things about the University of Texas coming on board,” said Agarwal in an interview on Monday in Boston, where he had just given the keynote talk at a meeting of the New England Board of Higher Education.

“It is the largest and most diverse system and has a large number of first-generation [students],” he said. “And they and we all see online learning as a way of increasing the success rate. And for that the [low-level, high-enrollment] courses are going to be key.”

And edX is not done with completion-oriented partnerships. Agarwal says edX has received funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop MOOCs aimed at community college students.

“We’ll be announcing community college partners soon,” he said. “We’ve narrowed it down and have got the final agreements in place.”

via U. of Texas aims to use MOOCs to reduce costs, increase completion | Inside Higher Ed.

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9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. alfredtwo  |  October 18, 2012 at 11:53 am

    I’m pretty skeptical of MOOCs myself. But what I see is universities grasping at straws trying to make critics happy with them. Retention is a huge problem as no one wants to pay for students to fail. So universities, especially public ones answerable to legislatures, are looking for silver bullets to fix the problem. No one wants to look at the students themselves because it has become politically incorrect to hold students responsible for their success or failure. (to say nothing of holding parents responsible for their children) So the latest buzzword, in this case MOOCs, “must” be a solution regardless of the evidence because it’s new.
    Yes I’m grumpy this morning. Sorry.

  • 2. mgozaydin  |  October 18, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    Every university has a level of difficulty to be successful.
    Everyone is sure that the most difficult schools are MIT and Harvard. Therefore edx cannot cover the whole range of students in the USA.

    I was saying lately that we need some less difficult schools in order to cover more population . UT was an excellent choice . First it can cover many of its own students within edx . UT has 51,000 students one of the largest . Even UT declared that they are considering to provide credits as well . These are all good news .

    When there is a matter of credits less people will apply for the UT courses for much better retention rate . In fact since 51,000 is a huge number applications will be also big .
    Let us not be pessimists. It is a good progress .

  • 3. Kathi Fisler  |  October 20, 2012 at 7:03 am

    In an interesting contrast, the Chronicle blog reports the banning of Coursera courses in Minnesota, stemming from a long-established consumer-protection law: http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/minnesota-gives-coursera-the-boot-citing-a-decades-old-law/40542

    I read the original UT article as being less about raising completion rates (which has an underlying educational goal) and more about making courses available, possibly more cheaply, to more students (more of a logistics goal). MOOCs promise enticing economics (the reality of those economics and the pedagogic costs not withstanding). Yes, $5mil feels like a lot to lay out on an experiment like this. But with 4 courses running system-wide, it could also be a valuable source of data on how effective this model will be across varying student populations.

    Perhaps the real question/concern is the extent to which pedagogic effectiveness will be a deciding factor in the long-term MOOC debate. We will certainly see the usual tensions between the budgeters and the educators about cost versus outcome tradeoff. I suspect many educators are just (reasonably) concerned about which way that tradeoff will lean.


    • 4. Mark Guzdial  |  October 21, 2012 at 4:56 pm

      I’m pretty sure that they’re explicitly doing it to improve completion rates, both from the Inside HigherEd piece and this quote from the Governor:

      The move drew immediate praise from Gov. Rick Perry, who released a statement calling it “exactly the type of effort I hope more schools will consider as we aggressively pursue the goals of improving graduation rates and making a college education more accessible and affordable for Texans.”

      Read more: http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/education/article/UT-joins-project-to-offer-free-online-courses-3949953.php#ixzz29y9Z0pGi

      • 5. Muvaffak Gozaydin  |  October 22, 2012 at 5:41 am

        What do you mean with completion rate .
        1.- To increase the completion rate, that is to increase the number of graduates at the end of 4 years of college ? Means less drop out rate .
        2.- To attract college drop outs to come back to college again and have them complete their degree programs .
        I would appreciate your answer.

        I have been dedicated to online learning since 1995.
        You, Americans did not understand that online needs a SCALE, online is for thousands of students, not a mere 200-300 students per course . Therefore today there are 1300 colleges in the USA offering ONLINE DEGREE programs they do not go nowhere .
        First they are expensive. PennState charges $ 1,500 per course and 200-300 students per course. Administrators happy they make huge money out of it . + all for profits .

        MIT realised that after 10-12 years of research and they started MITx in December 2011. ( They had a pilot run of OCW in 2001 , where they have 100,000,000 customers in the world, nobody mentions that )
        Now MIT offers online courses for millions at a small fee. But again American mentality love to comprehend that as free . ( that is the way to attract people ) MIT has a fantastic strategy and low profile in order not to scare colleges.

        UT is eager with its 51,000 students population . They are right.
        They can be an excellent ONLINE provider in the first place to their own students . Too all :
        1.- Increase the ennrollment due to low cost to online schools
        2.- Decrease the drop out rate due to finance or time scarcity
        3.- Attract college drop outs, to come back and complete their degrees.

        What UT is doing is MORE REVOLUTION THAN MIT
        1.- UT will provide credits and degrees to its own online courses
        2.- UT also will provide credits to edx courses ( this is revolution , that cuts the cost of education alot + increase the quality of UT with MIT and Harvard courses )

        Then Governer Rick Perry can reach to his goal
        The cost of BA degree less than $ 10,000 . Even to me only $ 2,000 .
        UT is greatest catalist for EDX .
        My only worry is ” UT does not have any online course design experience , therefore I hope they will get great help from MIT ”

        I do not like edx to be called MOOC .
        MOOC is the word for Coursera + Udacity
        They are fantastic people in marketing. They are just genius.
        But they are for profit. Commercial companies, not educational institutions .

        • 6. Mark Guzdial  |  October 22, 2012 at 9:12 am

          I think #1 is closest to what Texas and others want, but it is about getting the same people in and out — it’s not just about numbers.

          Muvaffak, I wish you’d read a bit here rather than make accusatory claims that are false. I do realize that online education needs scale — I’ve talked about that many times in this blog when discussing the Open University (and even the failed OU USA). I’ve also talked about access to MIT OCW, and the number of students is far less than the number of visitors (which is what I think you mean by customers). Finally, edX references their offerings MOOCs as well, so it’s not unreasonable to classify them in the same way as Coursera and Udacity.

          • 7. Muvaffak Gozaydin  |  October 22, 2012 at 1:59 pm

            Mark Guzdial
            1.- Thanks for clarification completion rate .
            2.- I value your comments very highly and read you very often.
            3.- Yes I accuse Americans
            a) You have wasted 20 years of people of the world and
            Americans with $ 1,500 online courses. Never thought of
            Did you ? Now thanks billions to MIT .
            You say now you did during the last 1 or 2 years, not too
            much usefullness , still better than nothing .
            b) Yes Americans jump into everything if you say something is
            free. If coursera had said courses are at $ 10 nobody would
            look to it . Am I right ?
            Are these false ?

            4.- Number of students reaching OCW is sure less than 100,000,000 but still 100,000,000 clicks mean a lot .
            Do you try to say that MIT’s OCW was not apreciated by the world . You try to get number less .

            5.- Unfortunately yes edx also referanced their offerings as MOOCs since people including many universities just jumped into MOOC idea .So they wanted to use that gimmick too .

            6.- Please do not classify Coursera and Udacity same as EDX .
            First edx is non profit, 2 highly respected schools.
            Udacity and Coursera are just 2 companies marketing online courses of universities without any screening .

            Let me make one more accusation .
            And more people go after them.
            do you understand these people. I do not. And I do not want to make more accusations.

            Main problem of USA is to provide college education to 18-22 years olds. They need it to make living . ONLINE was a solution for them. But colleges did not do their jobs providing small fee courses and education during last 20 years . It is a great sin .
            Now UT can do it .

            Please catch up the boat . Let us make UT known all over USA
            to save American youth. UT can provide 10,000 BA, BS degrees in the next 5-6 years at a small fee . Do not forget Governer Rick Perry is behind us .

            Today Mr. Khrouy of MIT said at Chronical
            ” They ( engineers ) are doers.
            If there is a problem out there,
            that is exciting,
            that is challenging,
            they want to go out there and have at it ”
            I am a Silicon Valley engineer from Caltech and Stanford 45 years ago .

  • […] is evidence that MOOCs do not teach. We know that MOOCs have a low completion rate. What most people don’t realize is that the majority of those who complete already knew the […]

  • […] MOOCs may simply be an ineffective educational technology. We know MOOCs have a low completion rate. It may also be true that the majority of those who complete already knew the content. MOOCs offer […]


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