Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Some Interesting Thoughts on MOOCs

Matt Reed makes an interesting case … Turning In to the Skid:

Apparently, San Jose State University has contracted with Udacity to run credit-bearing basic algebra classes -- both developmental and college-level -- at a cost to students of $150.

If the best instruction that a college can offer is a sage on a stage lecturing to 300 freshmen, whom that sage will then duck afterwards to get back to writing, then it’s hard to argue that a video presentation would be markedly worse. If anything, it may be better; at least with a video, you can play back parts you missed the first time. And the cost advantage is not to be ignored, particularly when tuition and student loan burdens are the highest they have ever been, even after inflation.

The limits of the traditional approach are particularly clear when we look at student pass rates in developmental and lower-level classes. Nationally, there’s nothing unusual about a 50 percent fail rate for a developmental math class. Early MOOCs have had even worse attrition rates, but that’s hardly an apples-to-apples comparison; most enrollees in the first wave of MOOCs had nothing at stake. Motivation matters. San Jose already ran its “circuits and electronics” course as a blended MOOC, and found that pass rates were actually higher than in the traditional class. Whether the same will be true on the “lower” end of the curriculum isn’t obvious, but it isn’t preposterous, either. And if it turns out to be higher, I’d like to hear the argument against it.

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