Posts tagged ‘MOOCs’

IEEE Prism on the Georgia Tech Online MS in CS Program

Nice piece in IEEE Prism about Georgia Tech’s On-line (Udacity MOOC-based) MS in CS degree.  I like how they emphasized that the program really discovered an un-met demand for graduate education.

Only after students began enrolling in OMS CS did researchers discover another unprecedented element of this massive online course. As economist Joshua Goodman of Harvard University tells Prism, he and his co-investigators found “large demand among mid-career [professionals], particularly mid-career Americans . . . for high-quality continuing education.” Indeed, demand is so robust that the program appears capable of boosting the overall production of computer science degrees in this country.Whether the new credential can fortify experienced professionals against the widespread threat of replacement by younger and cheaper workers remains an open question. For the thousands who have enrolled so far, however, the answer clearly is yes.

Source: Course Correction

August 7, 2017 at 7:00 am 1 comment

Finding that MANY students get lousy returns on online education, but SOME students succeed

The point made below is that online education does work for some students. Our OMS CS succeeds (see evidence here) because it serves a population that has CS background knowledge and can succeed online. Not everyone succeeds in MOOCs.  I don’t like the first sentence in this piece.  “Online education” can be effective.  The models matter.

Despite Hoxby’s troubling findings, it’s hard to say whether online education in and of itself is inherently problematic or whether certain models could be successful. Goodman’s research on a Georgia Institute of Technology online master’s in computer science program indicates that, if done right, an online degree can provide a decent education at a fraction of the cost.“That model doesn’t generalize very well to the broader set of people that are out there,” he said. That’s because the students in the Georgia Tech program have already proved themselves to be successful in higher education (the admissions standards are relatively similar to the school’s elite brick-and-mortar computer science program), which is often not the case for many of the 30-something students that are typical of online education programs.

Source: Damning study finds students get lousy returns on online education – MarketWatch

July 3, 2017 at 7:00 am 2 comments

MOOCs don’t serve to decrease income inequality

At this year’s NSF Broadening Participation in Computing PI meeting, I heard a great talk by Kevin Robinson that asked the question: Do MOOCs “raise all boats” but maintain or even increase income inequality, or do they help to reduce the economic divide?  It’s not the question whether poor students take MOOCs.  It’s whether it helps the poor more, or the rich more.

Kevin has made his slides available here. The work he described is presented in this article from Science.  I want to share the one slide that really blew me away.

The gray line is the average income for US citizens at various ages.  As you would expect, that number generally increases up until retirement.  The black line is the average income for students in Harvard and MIT’s MOOC participants.  The MOOC participants are not only richer, but as they get older, they diverge more.  These are highly-privileged people, the kind with many advantages.  MOOCs are mostly helping the rich.

May 1, 2017 at 7:00 am 5 comments

Passing of William G. Bowen: Walk Deliberately, Don’t Run, Toward Online 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.

Source: Walk Deliberately, Don’t Run, Toward Online Education – The Chronicle of Higher Education

March 17, 2017 at 7:00 am 5 comments

How the Pioneers of the MOOC Got It Wrong (from IEEE), As Predicted

There is a sense of vindication that the predictions that many of us made about MOOCs have been proven right, e.g., see this blog post where I explicitly argue (as the article below states) that MOOCs misunderstand the importance of active learning. It’s disappointing that so much effort went wasted.  MOOCs do have value, but it’s much more modest than the sales pitch.

What accounts for MOOCs’ modest performance? While the technological solution they devised was novel, most MOOC innovators were unfamiliar with key trends in education. That is, they knew a lot about computers and networks, but they hadn’t really thought through how people learn.

It’s unsurprising then that the first MOOCs merely replicated the standard lecture, an uninspiring teaching style but one with which the computer scientists were most familiar. As the education technology consultant Phil Hill recently observed in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “The big MOOCs mostly employed smooth-functioning but basic video recording of lectures, multiple-choice quizzes, and unruly discussion forums. They were big, but they did not break new ground in pedagogy.”

Indeed, most MOOC founders were unaware that a pedagogical revolution was already under way at the nation’s universities: The traditional lecture was being rejected by many scholars, practitioners, and, most tellingly, tech-savvy students. MOOC advocates also failed to appreciate the existing body of knowledge about learning online, built over the last couple of decades by adventurous faculty who were attracted to online teaching for its innovative potential, such as peer-to-peer learning, virtual teamwork, and interactive exercises. These modes of instruction, known collectively as “active” learning, encourage student engagement, in stark contrast to passive listening in lectures. Indeed, even as the first MOOCs were being unveiled, traditional lectures were on their way out.

Source: How the Pioneers of the MOOC Got It Wrong – IEEE Spectrum

February 17, 2017 at 7:17 am 2 comments

OMS CS graduates a different kind of student: Work from Harvard Graduate School of Education

This is the work that most impresses me about OMSCS — that it attracts a different group of students that might get a face-to-face MS in CS. I’m not sure that I buy “equivalent in all ways to an in-person degree,” but I do see that it’s hard to measure and the paper makes a good effort at it.

Previous research has shown that most users of online education look fairly similar to the average college graduate — suggesting that digital learning isn’t yet the great educational equalizer it has the potential to be. But in a study of Georgia Tech’s hugely successful online master of science in computer science (OMSCS) program, educational economists Joshua Goodman and Amanda Pallais and public policy expert Julia Melkers found that digital learning can tap into a new market of students by offering an online degree that is equivalent in all ways to an in-person degree, at a fraction of the cost.

Source: The Digital Bridge | Harvard Graduate School of Education

November 16, 2016 at 7:14 am 6 comments

Helping Adults to Learn while Saving Face: Ukulele and MOOCs at Dagstuhl

I played ukulele every night while at the Dagstuhl seminar on CS learning assessment. Most nights, there was a group of us — some on guitars from the music room, one on piano, and several singers. It was wonderful fun! I don’t often get a chance to play in a group of other instruments and other singers, and I learned a lot about styles of play and synchronizing. The guitar players were all much more experienced, but we were all playing and singing music seen for the first time. We weren’t performance-quality — there were lots of off-key notes, missed entrances/exits. We were a bunch of amateurs having fun. (Thanks to Ben Shapiro, Jan Erik Moström, Lisa Kaczmarczyk, and Shriram Krishnamurthi for sharing these photos.)

Dagstuhl-playing-collage

We were not always a popular group. Some participants groaned when the guitars and ukulele came in to the room. One commenter asked if the singing was meant to drown out the playing.  Another complained that our choice of songs was “wrong” for the instruments and voices. Clearly, some of the complaints were for humorous effect, and some were pretty funny.

Here’s the thought experiment: Imagine these were kids playing music and singing. I predict the result would be different. I doubt the listeners would criticize the players and singers in the same way, not even for humorous effect. While adults certainly criticize children when in a teacher-student or mentoring relationship, casual criticism by passerby adults of a child playing or practicing is unusual.

Why is it different for adults?

I’ve talked before about the challenges of adult learning. We expect adults to have expertise. We expect quality. It’s hard for adults to be novices. It’s hard for adults to learn and to save face.  My colleague Betsy DiSalvo points out that we typically critique people at a near-peer level of power — we don’t casually critique those with much less power than us (children) because that’s mean, and we don’t casually critique our bosses and managers (to their faces) because that’s foolish.  Getting critiqued is a sign that you’re recognized as a peer.

After her work at Xerox PARC, Adele Goldberg helped develop learning systems, including systems for the Open University in the UK. She once told me that online systems were particularly important for adult learners. She said, “It’s hard for people with 20 years of expertise in a field to raise their hands and say that they don’t know something.”

Andy Ko framed MOOCs for me in a new way at the Dagstuhl Seminar on Assessment in CS. In the discussion of social and professional practice (see previous blog post), I told him about some ideas I had about helping people to retrain for the second half of life. We live much longer than people did 30-50 years ago. Many college-educated workers can expect a work life into our 70’s. I’ve been wondering what it might be like to support adult students who might retrain in their 40’s or 50’s for another 20 year career later. Andy pointed out MOOCs are perfect for this.

College-educated professionals currently in their careers do have prior education, which is a population with which MOOCs are most successful. MOOCs can allow well-educated students to retrain themselves as time permits and without loss of face. A recent Harvard study shows that students who participate Georgia Tech’s MOOC-based OMS CS program are in a demographic unlikely to have participated in a face-to-face MS in CS program (see page here). The MOOCs are serving an untapped need — it’s not necessarily reaching those who wouldn’t have access to education otherwise, but it can be a significant help to people who want to re-train themselves.

There are lots of uses of MOOCs that still don’t make sense to me.  Based on the empirical evidence of MOOCs today (in their current forms), I argue that:

  • MOOCs are not going to democratize education.  They have not been effective at motivating novices to learn required content, as opposed to elective or chosen content.
  • MOOCs are unlikely to broaden participation in computing.  Betsy DiSalvo and I ran a study about why women aren’t participating in OMS CS.  Those reasons are unlikely to change soon.
  • MOOCs may not work for adults who are being required to, or are asked to retrain, as opposed to those who choose to retrain.  Motivation matters. I have not yet seen convincing evidence that MOOCs can play a significant role in developing new CS teachers.  It’s hard to convince teachers to learn to be CS teachers — they’re not necessarily motivated to do so. Without the intrinsic motivation of choosing to be there, they may not complete.  A teacher who doesn’t complete doesn’t know the whole curriculum.

Adults will still have to have tough skins when practicing their new skills. We expect a lot of expertise out of the starting gate for adults in our society, even when retraining for a second career. MOOCs might be excellent preparation for adults in their second acts.

March 11, 2016 at 8:02 am 2 comments

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