California’s multi-million dollar online ed flop is a blow for MOOCs: What happened?

May 29, 2015 at 8:37 am 2 comments

I don’t think that MOOCs are a good solution for required classes.  I agree with the idea that MOOCs are for people who want to learn something because they’re interested in it, and that completion rates don’t matter there.

That suggests that we shouldn’t use MOOCs where (a) the students don’t know what they need to know and (b) completion rates matter.

  • Thus, don’t use MOOCs for intro courses (as we learned at GT with English composition and physics) where students don’t know that they really need this knowledge to go on, and the completion rates are even worse than in other MOOCs. The combination hurts the students who want to go on to subsequent courses. Using MOOCs to provide adults with content that might be covered in an intro course isn’t the same thing. For example, an intro to programming course for adults who want to understand something about coding, but not necessarily continue in CS studies, makes sense for a MOOC. If they’re not trying to prepare for a follow-on course, then the completion rate doesn’t really matter.  If the MOOC learners are adults who are foraging for certain information, then the even-lower completion rate in intro-content MOOCs makes sense.  There may only be a small part of that content that someone doesn’t already know.
  • Thus, don’t use MOOCs to teach high school teachers about CS, where they don’t know what CS they need to know, they’re uncertain about becoming CS teachers, and a lack of completion means that the teachers who don’t complete (90-95% of enrollees) don’t know the curriculum that they’re supposed to teach. Using MOOCs to provide existing CS teachers with new opportunities to learn is a good match for the student audience to the affordances of the medium. Trying to draw in new CS teachers (when they are so hard to recruit) via MOOCs makes little sense to me.

Setting aside my concerns about MOOCs, it’s not exactly clear what’s going on in the below article.  I get that it’s not good that California had to just forgive the loan of $7M USD, and that they will likely to continue to lose money.  I get that the quote below says, “we got extremely little in return.”  I don’t see what was the return.  I don’t see how many students actually participated (e.g., we’re told that there was only 250 non-UC students, but not how many UC students participated), and if the courses they created could continue to be used for years after, and so on.  It doesn’t look good, but there’s not enough information here to know that it was bad.

“We spent a lot of money and got extremely little in return,” said Jose Wudka, a physics professor at UC-Riverside who previously chaired the Systemwide Committee on Educational Policy of the Academic Senate, which represents faculty in the UC System.

The project, which cost $7 million to set up at a time when the state was cutting higher-education funding, aspired to let students take courses across campuses.

via California’s multi-million dollar online education flop is another blow for MOOCs – The Hechinger Report.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  May 29, 2015 at 2:43 pm

    The report does say “Just over 2,400 UC students systemwide have now enrolled in courses at other UC campuses through the Innovative Learning Technology Initiative.” That is still not a lot for a $7 million investment—ordinary courses cost much less than $3000 a student to run. We generally pay an instructor about $8k for a course, and the room and overhead can’t more than double that. So the on-line courses have been costing about what it would cost to teach 5-student in-person classes. That’s a damn expensive way to teach!

  • 2. tabeles  |  May 29, 2015 at 6:07 pm

    We find the concerns listed here internationally, particularly in developing countries where students have been “told” what they need to know to get credit whether they have actually mastered the material sufficiently to demonstrate competency. It’s not just the platform but the system. The shift to competencies when coherently stated at the start of a course along with consequences for not meeting such standards start to shift the picture. Kevin Carey’s experience as described in his book, The End of College, (a course taken at MIT with, obviously a class of highly motivated and self-directed students) is an excellent example.

    There are too many papers and books pointing out that students, particularly in the US, graduate with less than intellectual competencies. That is not to lay the problem on the student, or even the system, or on how MOOC’s (virtual lecture halls) are designed and executed. Ask Apple

    Saying that CS students, particularly future teachers, are/were clueless as to what they needed is a rather weak rationale to base a post in this blog


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