Thursday, August 01, 2013

Oh the Udacity of it all!

In an effort to seem ahead of the curve in educational technology, San Jose State teamed up with Silicon Valley start-up Udacity and started to offer online credit classes.  As we all know, ed-tech is going to solve the education crisis in this country, starting with the state college system and working down.  The results?


“….failure rates in the five classes ranged from 56 to 76 percent. Nor was the course material exactly rocket science—the five classes were in elementary statistics, college algebra, entry-level math, introduction to programming, and introduction to psychology.”

Someone, somewhere is probably surprised by this statistic.  That someone is probably not a teacher, and very likely an edu-crat or a simple politician.  For some reason people have forgotten what type of people go to college.  Remember that your perfect little children are probably not the majority of those people enrolled as freshmen in college.


That’s the Lazy College Guy meme.  He’s tremendously popular because he reminds a lot of people about what college was like as an underclassman; getting up to go to class hung over and barely making it in classes that were moderately challenging.  Now you are telling Lazy College Guy (and Gal) to not to bother getting up because you can blast through Udacity and pass the class whenever.  Sure, sounds like plan. 

But wait a moment!  Some good news.

“….83 percent of students had completed the classes, a far higher rate than is typical for the free, open courses that have come to be known as MOOCs.”

Of course.  Nearly 20% of those that signed up didn’t even complete the course, and of those that completed the course almost 75% failed.  Somehow the founder of Udacity found this to be the silver lining on the thundercloud known as MOOCs.  If I’m not mistaken, the point was to rush kids into learning something by using the online platform.  Didn’t seem to work out well.  

I took online courses in college…..when I had already graduated.  Yep.  Once I saw that 90 units of credit got me a serious raise in money, I took as many online courses that I could handle in a couple of summers and shot over to the end of that salary schedule.  But the difference between me and the San Jose State debacle is that they were all classes I was interested in, and the incentive to take them was very clear.  Money.  There is little real short-term incentive here, and the engagement aspect of a good college class is non-existent online.  I loved some my subjects I took from Fresno-Pacific.  But the classes were boring as hell. 

Online learning will always have a niche in college.  But only a niche.  College is an experience, not just a series of webpages you can scan to complete the work for bogus credit.  Until we figure out that we need real pedagogy and rigor to fix the situation, the Interwebz will just be an excuse. 

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