Posts tagged ‘distance education’
William G. Bowen of Princeton and of the Mellon Foundation recently died at the age of 83. His article about MOOCs in 2013 is still relevant today.
In particular is his note about “few of those studies are relevant to the teaching of undergraduates.” As I look at the OMS CS results and the empirical evidence about MOOC completers (which matches results of other MOOC experiments of which I’m aware at Georgia Tech), I see that MOOCs are leading to learning and serving a population, but that tends to be the most privileged population. Higher education is critiqued for furthering inequity and not doing enough to serve underprivileged students. MOOCs don’t help with that. It reminds me of Annie Murphy Paul’s article on lecture — they best serve the privileged students that campuses already serve well. That’s a subtle distinction: MOOCs help, but not the students who most need help.
What needs to be done in order to translate could into will? The principal barriers are the lack of hard evidence about both learning outcomes and potential cost savings; the lack of shared but customizable teaching and learning platforms (or tool kits); and the need for both new mind-sets and fresh thinking about models of decision making.
How effective has online learning been in improving (or at least maintaining) learning outcomes achieved by various populations of students in various settings? Unfortunately, no one really knows the answer to either that question or the important follow-up query about cost savings. Thousands of studies of online learning have been conducted, and my colleague Kelly Lack has continued to catalog them and summarize their findings.
It has proved to be a daunting task—and a discouraging one. Few of those studies are relevant to the teaching of undergraduates, and the few that are relevant almost always suffer from serious methodological deficiencies. The most common problems are small sample size; inability to control for ubiquitous selection effects; and, on the cost side, the lack of good estimates of likely cost savings.
These are really exciting results. Done well, on-line professional development is as effective as face-to-face professional development. These results are promising for our CSLearning4U project. In particular, the benefit that Barry Fishman saw is what we were most hoping for, based on our studies with Klara Benda — it’s all about fitting into the teachers’ lives.
Of course, the devil is in how the teacher training is designed and executed. “There are no shortcuts in professional development,” Fishman stressed.
In the study, teachers who received the online professional development weren’t just plopped in front of YouTube. Instead, the group took a series of self-paced “short courses” via computer. They also interacted online with facilitators who helped them through the units and answered their questions.
Like their counterparts in the face-to-face group, the teachers were expected to become familiar with geographic information system software and how to teach it, as well as how to engage students in a hands-on, iterative learning process. Teachers in both groups had access to the same print materials and computer simulations.
Fishman and his colleagues found that teachers in the online group spent wildly varying amounts of time learning the new curriculum. One teacher cruised through the material in three hours. Another took 52 hours to digest everything. But the classroom results were largely the same.
“One of the benefits of online professional development is that it lets teachers move at their own pace,” Fishman said. “The same thing is probably going on in face-to-face [settings]. You just zone out when you’re sitting in a 40-hour workshop.”
This is a great result, if I can believe it. They took 605 students, some in a traditional course and some in a “hybrid” course, and did pre/post tests. They found no difference in outcomes.
Here’s what I’m not sure about: What happened to those students who failed or who withdrew? Other studies have suggested that online courses have higher withdraw/failure rates. Is that the case here? There is only one footnote (page 18) that mentions withdraw/failure: “(27) Note that the pass rate in Figure 1 and Appendix Table A3 cannot be used to calculate the percentage of students who failed the course because the non-passing group includes students who never enrolled or withdrew from the course without receiving a grade.” But that’s it. If you lose more students in one format, and the students you lose are the weaker students (not an unreasonable assumption), then having the same learning gains doesn’t mean for all students. It means that you’ve biased your sample.
The researchers asked the students to complete a number of tests and questionnaires before beginning the course and again after completing it, and they analyzed and compared the results between the two groups of students. The results revealed no statistical difference in educational outcomes between the two groups of students. In fact, the students in the hybrid course performed slightly better, but not enough to be statistically significant.
Some more statistics from another Coursera course. The final comments are interesting: Through MOOCs, “everyone can get at least some fraction of what we believe is fundamental knowledge.” That’s true. The interesting question is whether MOOCs get more students a fraction that they didn’t have previously (see the edX data about 80% repeating the course) than a similar face-to-face course. It’s not obvious to me either way — there are certainly results that have us questioning the effectiveness of our face-to-face classes. While MOOCs lead to few finishing, maybe those that do finish learn more than in a face-to-face class, and maybe overall (amount of learning across number of students), MOOCs contribute more to the public good?
Read on for the final metrics on Caffo’s class and a few thoughts from the associate professor at the university’s school of public health.
Number of students who signed up for Caffo’s class: 15,930.
Number who ordinarily sign up for the class when it is taught solely on campus in Baltimore: a few dozen.
Active users in the final week of the class: 2,778
Total unique visitors who watched Caffo’s video lectures: 8,380
Total who submitted a quiz: 2,882
Total who submitted homework: 2,492
Total who passed the course (averaging 70 percent or better on quizzes): 748
Total who passed with distinction (averaging 90 percent or better): 447
And here is Caffo’s take:
“Regardless of how MOOCs wind up, it is awesome to be a professor in a time where teaching is the hottest topic in higher education at research-driven universities. I also have a lot of sympathy for democratizing education and information. Very few people will have the privilege of a Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health education. But, with these efforts [including free online initiatives such as Open Courseware, iTunes U, Coursera] everyone can get at least some fraction of what we believe is fundamental knowledge for attacking the world’s public health problems.”
MOOCs from Open University UK (with its over 40 years of measurable success) at the lead? With Southampton (home of Dame Wendy Hall and Sir Tim Berners-Lee)? Now this really gets interesting. Hmm — OxBridge isn’t throwing hats into the rings yet.
A partnership of UK universities is launching an online project, challenging US universities that have dominated this emerging market.
They will aim to give the public access to higher education courses via computers, tablets or smartphones.
The partnership will include the Open University, King’s College London, Bristol, Exeter, Warwick, East Anglia, Leeds, Lancaster, Southampton, Cardiff, Birmingham and St Andrews.
Courses will be offered from next year.
MOOCs are still quite new, so it’s not surprising that more platforms are coming out. It’s a little surprising that this is the third one to come out of Stanford. Why is Stanford ground-zero for the MOOC movement? Because Stanford is so entrepreneurial or innovative? Because of the Silicon Valley culture which encourages exploring use of technology to solve problems, like education? Because Stanford has deep enough pockets that they can afford to experiment? I really don’t know, and do find it fascinating.
To unpack that a little: When Class2Go says it’s portable, it means that it wants to be platform agnostic. Its documents are already portable, its videos already live outside its system on YouTube, its assets can be repurposed as professors see fit and the platform’s exercises and problem sets are in the Khan Academy format (meaning they’re not in a proprietary database) and can be used anywhere.
In terms of interoperability, Class2Go’s website reads, “we don’t want to build or maintain more than we have to,” so it stands on the shoulders of, or relies significantly on, other services to run, like Khan, Piazza, YouTube, Python Django, Amazon AWS, Opscode and Github. Furthermore, designing the platform for both teaching and research means that the platform will leverage data to inform and evolve pedagogy, as well as to give them a glimpse into the efficacy of lessons, teaching style, tech tools, etc.
The Computing Community Consortium (CCC) organizes efforts to focus computing research in the United States. I’m on the organizing committee for this effort, triggered by MOOCs, to identify research issues in online learning for the computing research community.
Participants will explore and delineate computer science and multidisciplinary research agendas designed to improve formal and informal education. The workshop will build on CCC’s earlier visioning activities on Global Resources for Online Education (GROE), addressing education-relevant research in areas such as intelligent student modeling through data mining, mobile computing for data logging, social networking, serious games, intelligent learning environments, HCI to facilitate educational interactions, computer-supported collaborative learning, interactive visualizations and simulations, and many other areas, to include research at the interface of computing and the social/behavioral sciences.
While the workshop will build on a rich existing landscape of cyber-enabled education research, it also will be informed by very recent developments, such as massively open online courses (MOOCs), that make important dimensions of scale and openness explicit. Throughout the workshop, issues of education and learning quality will be also at the fore; how will the character of education change, and what are the important dimensions and evaluation methodologies for designing online educational instruments of quality at scale for different populations? What computing-relevant multidisciplinary research imperatives will grow to facilitate cyber-enabled transformations in online education?
This CCC visioning workshop will address these and related questions on computing-relevant multidisciplinary research, looking 5-10 years out, for online education. Importantly, the workshop will not address shorter-term concerns such as credentialing and business models for online education ventures, except as these inform the workshop’s focus on longer-term research agendas.