When I see a story or blog nowadays on MOOCs, I am inclined not to read it. I mean, how much more could be said about Udacity, EdX, or Coursera that has not already been written? But if you’re like me, resist that temptation and go back and read one of the many articles that appeared earlier this week about San Jose State partnering with Udacity to develop online, entry-level courses. It’s worth your time.
MOOCs as we know are built on scale hundreds of thousands of students taking courses online from renowned professors at elite universities. In most cases, students take these courses for no credit and completion rates are rather poor, around 10 percent according to some accounts. That’s not to say MOOCs are not an important, disruptive innovation. But the current model might not serve all students equally well.
That’s why the San Jose State story is so interesting. Udacity will help build three entry-level online courses for San Jose State, two in math and one in statistics. The courses will be taught by San Jose State faculty while Udacity will provide the platform and mentors to help students succeed. Enrollments will be capped at 100 per course, with half of the spots reserved for San Jose State students and the other half for high school students, community college students, armed services members on active duty, and veterans – all groups who have had a hard time enrolling and graduating from California public colleges and universities, especially given cutbacks in seats on campuses. Students will pay $150 for each course (one-third of normal tuition) and will earn credit if they pass successfully. The National Science Foundation will research student outcomes.
Immediately, one can see how this deviates from the standard MOOC model. San Jose State will offer students capped enrollments, mentoring support, and course credit. This model should hold promise for disadvantaged students, not only because of the attractive price, but also because this structured model might deliver superior retention rates… (The NSF will have more to say on that front.) For San Jose State, since instruction will be led by university faculty and development costs total $15,000 per course, the economic model and campus politics are attractive.
Mostly though, this endeavor will shed more light on the suitability of online or blended learning to benefit disadvantaged students. As this blog has pointed out before, the prevailing wisdom is that online education and at-risk students are a poor match. But as more and more traditional universities turn to blended learning, further examples of mixing technology with personalized outreach to students will be developed. Just this week, ES released a related piece by Mandy Zatynski on boosting retention rates in online programs. These developments should help point the way for how to implement blended learning strategies in higher education that improve both outcomes for traditionally under-served students and lower costs.
Photo Credit: Cal Watchdog