Posts tagged ‘on-line learning’

Georgia Tech will partner with Coursera

This got emailed to all Georgia Tech faculty late last night.  Figure is from the Inside HigherEd piece on this expansion — which includes University of Virginia.

Dear Colleagues:
Today Georgia Tech will announce a partnership with Coursera, the Stanford University online education spinout that has been much in the news lately.  We will join a small group of highly respected partner universities, including Stanford, Michigan, Princeton, and Caltech in a bold experiment in the future of higher education. With all the talk about the nature and desirability of change in higher education, I think it is significant that some of the world’s best universities have decided to partner in this way.  It also is significant that Georgia Tech is a founding member of this group.
In making this announcement, we are not abandoning our central mission of residential undergraduate instruction. In fact, we view this as an opportunity to remain true to our pledge to define the technological research university of the 21st century by exploring new modes of instruction and operation.  What we learn from the Coursera and other similar experiments will above all benefit our own students and strengthen our existing programs.
Over the past months, I have gathered input from faculty, students, and alumni who have new ideas about online courses and other educational technology. Many members of our community express a desire to “try out” new techniques, to reach new Georgia Tech students and stakeholders, and to provide more flexible approaches to classroom instruction and course design.  Coursera is just the first step in a strategy that will give us the freedom to investigate these new approaches and rapidly adopt the ones that have a positive impact on the Institute.
Details about our arrangement with Coursera will be made public over the next few days.  If you have an interest in online instruction or if you have ideas for courses that you think might have particular value, I invite you to express that interest to me or to Professor Rich DeMillo in his role as chair of my Council for Educational Technology. Your support and participation in this experiment will be critical to its success.
Rafael L. Bras,
Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs

July 17, 2012 at 2:56 am 5 comments

E-mails show UVa board wanted a big online push: McLuhan rolls over in grave

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.

via E-mails show U.Va. board wanted a big online push | Inside Higher Ed.

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?

June 21, 2012 at 8:05 am 22 comments

Massive open, on-line courses: With the faculty, or against the faculty?

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?”

via How could MITx change MIT? | Inside Higher Ed.

April 19, 2012 at 8:02 am 5 comments

Quality of Homework matters, if quality matters

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.

via Quality Homework – A Smart Idea – NYTimes.com.

November 22, 2011 at 3:19 pm Leave a comment

New report on on-line learning from US Dept of Ed

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.)

August 11, 2009 at 10:36 am 2 comments


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