September 2, 2014

A new approach to online lab classes from the University of South Carolina

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 Histology USC

Adams, S. and Duvall, B. (2014) Designing, building and supporting online lab courses, University Business, February 4

This article is a summary of a presentation made at the University Business conference last June. It describes how two biology professors at the University of South Carolina, Roger Sawyer and Robert Ogilvie, developed an online course on histology that was built around students being able to drill down into images of the cell at various levels through the use of a large repository of digitized slides of cells, accompanied by a voice over narrative:

Using Adobe Presenter to create the slides and WebMic to record the audio, Sawyer and Ogilvie built lectures, grouped slides together and developed quizzes. The program offered the flexibility for faculty to record and post content right from their desktops. With each set of slides, students can move ‘bit by bit,’ drilling deep down into a cell, reading the accompanying information, and listening to a narrative as they go. Since the self-paced content requires large files, it is hosted offline via Screencast (by TechSmith).

This was partly driven by space limitations in USC’s physical labs, and partly by increasing demand for students with health sciences qualifications. This approach has enabled the course to jump from 70 enrollments a year to 350. At the same time, student performance for the online students is the same as for the on-campus students, and over 90% of students rate the course highly on a number of variables.

One reason for the success of this approach is that the two professors worked closely with instructional designers and the university’s media services department. The team developed their own tool for recording audio over the slides (webMic), using ‘off-the-shelf’ apps, rather than programming from scratch.

There is a video recording of the presentation available here, which is worth watching because as well as describing the histology project, it also looks how online learning is being integrated into physical labs at USC, and the impact on room design. In other words, students and faculty need online access not only from home and office, but also while in the lab.

Another e-learning platform from Nigeria

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Fora.co

Adepoju, P. (2014) Nigeria is ready for e-learning – Fora.co Humanipo, January 28

I wrote about tutor.ng in a previous post. Fora.co is another e-learning platform, working with ‘Africa’s leading Universities, organizations and governments to provide young Africans with affordable access to the best educational content online, offline and on mobile‘. It offers over 500 courses or course packs, consisting of:

pre-built bundles of relevant digital learning resources that can be used as teaching or training aids in the classroom. (Minimum 6 hours of professor lectures) 
+ Lab Exercises 
+ Textbooks & required readings 
+ Test banks (Minimum 100 questions) 
+ Presentation Slide templates for lectures

Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, chief executive officer at Fora.co, believes that in Nigeria, the technology is not the main barrier. The problem is lack of local content:

We are still light years behind others countries. Nigerian e-learning content is often badly designed and instructional design for online courses still seems foreign to our e-learning content landscape. This is one of the reasons we have had to focus on selling foreign courses because the local courses we saw were quite simply not up to snuff.

For students with difficult or costly access to the Internet, Fora provides learners with a flash drive that ‘synchronizes data from offline interactions and downloads new content from Fora.co to the flashdrive whenever internet access becomes available‘.

Flora markets both directly to institutions and also to individual students. Fora charges a fee per student that depends on the size of the institution and the kind of content bundle required. The lowest priced content bundle is $59.99/student (~N10,000/student).

However, at the moment its web site does not list the courses, the institutions that provide the materials, or the institutions that Fora is working with. This will come shortly; the materials however are properly sourced with the permission of each of the institutions whose materials are used.

Comment

Again, it will be interesting to see how this company develops, and whether the business model is successful. It is likely to work best with small, private institutions who can charge a premium fee thus generating a profit.

A major test will be if any African public universities partner, and whether courses will eventually be accredited in Nigeria.

Nevertheless I am sure we will see more attempts like this around Africa to build viable e-learning or online systems through the private sector.

Footnote

After I initially posted this, I discovered that this project had a Canadian origin, originally conceived at the University of Waterloo’s Velo City Garage and with connections with the MaRS Tech project: click here for much more information about the Fora operation. See also Iyinoluwa Aboyeji’s comments to this post below.

Tracking online learning in the USA – and Ontario

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Babson 2012 enrollment graph Allen, I. and Seaman, J. (2014) Grade Change: Tracking Online Learning in the United States Wellesley MA: Babson College/Sloan Foundation

This is the eleventh annual report in this invaluable series on tracking online education in the United States of America. It is invaluable, because, through the consistent support of the Sloan Foundation, the Babson College annual survey provides a consistent methodology that allows for the tracking of the growth and development of online learning in the USA over more than a decade.

There is nothing comparable in Canada, but nevertheless I will use this post to try and draw some comparisons between the development of online earning in the USA and at least the largest system in Canada, that of Ontario, which does have at least some data. Also, Ontario has just established Ontario Online, a system wide initiative aimed at strengthening Ontario’s online learning activities. The Sloan/Babson surveys have important lessons for Ontario’s new initiative.

Methodology

The survey is sent to the Chief Academic Officer (CAO) of every higher education institution in the USA (private and public, universities and two year colleges), over 4,600 in all. Over 2,800 responses were received from institutions that accounted for just over 80% of all higher education enrollments in the USA (most non-responses came from small institutions, i.e. institutions with 1,500 students or less, who were far less likely to have online courses, as a sector).

An online course is defined in this report as one in which at least 80 percent of the course content is delivered online as a normal part of an institution’s program. MOOCs are therefore considered a completely different category from the ‘normal’ credit-based online courses in this report.

What is the report about?

The scope of the report can best be described from the questions the report seeks to answer:

  • What is Online Learning, what is a MOOC?
  • Is Online Learning Strategic?
  • Are Learning Outcomes in Online Comparable to Face-to-Face?
  • Schools Without Online Offerings
  • How Many Students are Learning Online?
  • Do Students Require More Discipline to Complete Online Courses?
  • Is Retention of Students Harder in Online Courses?
  • What is the Future of Online Learning?
  • Who offers MOOCs?
  • Objectives for MOOCs
  • Role of MOOCs

Main findings

This relatively short report (40 pages, including tables) is so stuffed with data that it is somewhat invidious to pick and choose results. Because it is short and simply written you are strongly recommended to read it yourself in full. However, here are the main points I take away:

Growth of credit-based online learning continues but is slowing

Sounds a bit like an economic report on China, doesn’t it? Allen and Seaman claim that a total of 7.1 million students are now taking at least one online course, or roughly 34% of all enrollments. (Note: ‘% taking at least one course’ is not the same as ‘% of all course enrollments’ which would be a better measure.) Online learning enrollments were up 6.5% in 2013, a slowing of the rate of growth which had been in the 10-15% range per annum in recent years. Nevertheless, online enrollments are still growing five times faster that enrollments in general in the USA, and most CAOs anticipate that this growth in online learning enrollments will continue into the future.

MOOCs are still a very small component of online learning

The number of institutions offering MOOCs rose from 2.6% in 2012 to 5% in 2103. The majority of institutions offering MOOCs are doctoral/research and there is a high proportion in the private, not-for-profit sector. This sector has been historically less involved in credit-based online learning.

Graph sectors with online learning

Less than a quarter of CAOs believe that MOOCs represent a sustainable method for offering online courses, down from 28 percent in 2012, and a majority of academic leaders (64%) have concerns that credentials for MOOC completion will cause confusion about higher education degrees.

Sector differences

The report identifies some clear differences between the different sectors in the USA’s very diverse post-secondary education system. Small institutions (less than 1,500) and doctoral/research institutions are far less likely to offer online courses. CAOs from institutions not offering online learning tend to be more critical of the quality of online learning and far less likely to think it essential to their future.

Of the CAOs from institutions offering online courses, nearly one-quarter believe online outcomes to be superior, slightly under 20 percent think them inferior, with the remainder (57%) reporting that the learning outcomes are the same as for classroom delivery

What about Canada – and Ontario in particular?

I have long lamented that we have no comparable data on online learning in Canada. The government of Ontario did do a census of all its universities and colleges in 2010 and found just under 500,000 online course registrations, or 11% of all university and college enrollments, with online enrollments in universities (13%) higher than in two-year colleges (7%). If we extrapolate from the USA figures (highly dubious, I know) which showed a 16% increase in online enrollments between fall 2010 and fall 2012, this would put Ontario’s online enrollments in 2012 at approximately 563,000.

More significantly, the Ontario government survey provided hard data on course completion rates:

  • the median in the college sector for the 20 colleges that responded to the question was 76.1% with most institutions reporting results between 70% and 79%.
  • the median in the university sector for the 15 universities that responded was 89% with most universities reporting results from 85% to 95%.

Contact North did a ‘cross-country check-up’ in 2012. It concluded (p.14):

Using proxy data (estimates provided by a variety of different organizations and a standard measure of full-time equivalent student set at 9.5 course registrations per FTE), we can estimate that there are between 875,000 and 950,000 registered online students in Canada (approximately 92,105 – 100,000 full-time students) at college and universities studying a purely online course at any one time.

The problem though is that these are one-off studies. While the government of Ontario is to be congratulated on doing the 2010 survey, it decided not to continue it in the following years (or more accurately, it did not decide to repeat it.) The Contact North data is at best a rough estimate, again valuable in itself, but needs to done on a more systematic and regular basis across the country (Canada’s higher education system is devolved to each of 12 provinces with no federal responsibility or office for post-secondary education, and Statistics Canada has been cut back in recent years by the current Conservative Government).

However, there is now hope. The government of Ontario has just established Ontario Online, a collaborative Centre of Excellence that will be governed and operated by the province’s colleges and universities. It has a start-up budget of $42 million. One of the first things it should do is to repeat and expand the 2010 survey, to establish a baseline for measuring the province’s progress in online learning. The expansion should include also measurement of hybrid/blended learning (preferably using the same definitions as the Babson survey for comparative purposes.) To do this accurately, institutions will need to categorize the type of courses they are offering in their courses’ database, if they have not already done this to date. Without such a baseline of data, it will be almost impossible to assess not just the success of Ontario Online, but of online learning in general in Ontario.

I would also hope that as the country’s largest province, with probably the greatest number of online courses and enrollments, Ontario will take leadership at the national Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) to get the survey it has developed adopted and administered by all provinces across Canada. Politicians and experts can huff and puff all they like about the importance of online learning, but if they don’t measure it, it’s all just hot air.

In summary, many thanks to Sloan and Babson College for their invaluable work. Ontario has done far more than any other province in Canada to identify the extent of online learning, and is poised to make an even greater breakthrough through its new Ontario Online initiative. However, systematic data collection is essential for measuring the success of any online learning initiatives or strategies.

Africa is the world’s fastest developing e-learning market

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Computers for student use at Tshwane University of Technology, South Africa

Adkins, S. (2013) The Africa Market for Self-paced eLearning Products and Services: 2011-2016 Forecast and Analysis Monroe WA: Ambient Insight

This is one of the most interesting reports I have come across in a long time. Even the abstract is packed with information and data. I have pulled out here just a small selection of particular interest to online learning in higher education.

According to this report, e-learning is forecast to grow in Africa as a whole at a rate of 15% per annum over the next four years, with growth rates in individual countries at the following:

  • Senegal: 30%
  • Zambia: 28%
  • Zimbabwe: 25%
  • Kenya: 25%

In terms of volume of revenues from e-learning, South Africa is the dominant country but will be overtaken by Nigeria by 2016.

There are several drivers of this development in Africa:

  • the recent arrival of fiber optic connectivity. Prior to this, satellite access was the primary connectivity medium, which is very expensive. This was inhibiting the uptake of Internet connectivity
  • a price war with telecoms and ISPs dropping prices to attract customers. This has also created a boom in the adoption of Internet and mobile technologies
  • Internet penetration in Kenya essentially doubled from 2010 to 2011, growing from 28% to 52% in just one year. Internet penetration more than tripled in Rwanda between 2011 and 2012, growing from 8% to 26% in one year.
  • The wide scale digitization of academic content in every country analyzed in this report
  • The explosion of online enrollments in higher education institutions
  • the sharp spike in the adoption of eLearning in the corporate segments in the booming economies.

According to the report:

The boom in online higher education enrollments in Africa is nothing short of astonishing. Many countries are adopting eLearning as a way to meet the strong demand for higher education – a demand they simply cannot meet with traditional campuses and programs:

  • The University of South Africa (UNISA) UNISA is a pan-regional virtual university with over 310,000 students (3,500 come from outside Africa.) Over half of all UNISA students take at least one online course a year. New virtual universities are springing up everywhere in Africa.
  • In May 2011, the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) announced the launch of a pan-African virtual university branch of IGNOU with headquarters in Ethiopia. IGNOU has partnerships with institutions in 20 African countries.
  • Innorero University, a private institution in Kenya, launched their Virtual Campus in January 2012.
  • The Virtual University of Uganda (VUU) claims to be the first online university in East Africa and started taking students in January 2012.
  • In June 2012, the Kenyan government funded the development of a new online education institution called the Open University of Kenya in an effort to meet the strong demand for higher education in the country.
  • The African University College of Communications (AUCC) and the India-based AVAGMAH Online School of Bharathidasan University announced in October 2012 that they would launch a virtual university in Ghana in January 2013 
  • in January 2012, the African Development Bank approved a US$15.6 million grant to help strengthen the capacity of the African Virtual University (AVU). As of 2012, the AVU had 31 active higher education partners across Africa, which it helps in building e-learning centres and training content developers. The new funding will be used to build 12 new e-learning centres.

With very few exceptions, most of the countries in the region now have official government policies on the use of technology in education. There are now dozens of new national digitization projects funded directly by the central governments with and without the aid of external donors.


Measuring the growth of online learning: the Babson College 2012 survey

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©2013 by Babson Survey Research Group and Quahog Research Group, LLC

Allen, I.E. and Seaman, J. (2013) Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States  Wellesley MA: Babson College/Quahog Research Group

Based on responses from more than 2,800 colleges and universities, this year’s study, like those for the previous nine years, tracks the opinions of chief academic officers. The figures refer to fully online courses, i.e. courses where over 80% of the content is delivered online. Most of you will have seen at least the headlines about this report, but it is so significant that I am providing a detailed analysis.

Main findings:

Online course enrollments

  • The number of students taking at least one online course increased by over 570,000 to a new total of 6.7 million.
  • The online enrollment growth rate of 9.3 percent is the lowest recorded in this report series (but higher than enrollment growth overall, which dropped to below zero in 2011-2012.)
  • The proportion of all students taking at least one online course is at an all time high of 32.0 percent
  • The continued growth in online enrollments has come from the transition of institutions with only a few online courses moving to offer fully online programs, and from institutions with online programs expanding their offerings and building their enrollments.

©2013 by Babson Survey Research Group and Quahog Research Group, LLC

Learning outcomes

  • In the first report of this series in 2003, 57 percent of academic leaders rated the learning outcomes in online education as the same or superior to those in face-to-face.  That number is now 77 percent.
  • A minority (23%) of academic leaders continue to believe the learning outcomes for online education are inferior to those of face-to-face instruction.
  • Academic leaders at institutions with online offerings have a much more favorable opinion of the relative learning outcomes for online courses than do those at institutions with no online offerings.

Faculty acceptance 

  • Only 30 percent of chief academic officers believe their faculty accept the value and legitimacy of online education.  This rate is lower than the rate recorded in 2004.
  • Chief academic officers at institutions with fully online programs have the most positive view of their faculty acceptance, but even for them the proportion agreeing is less than a majority (38 percent).

Time to teach online

  • The percent of academic leaders that believe it takes more faculty time and effort to teach online has increased from 41 percent in 2006 to 45 percent this year.
  • Private for-profit institutions are the lone group whose level of agreement has dropped (from 32 percent in 2006 to 24 percent in 2012).

Who offers online programs?

  • Virtually all publicly funded institutions (90%+) had online courses even in 2002.  One big change for these schools is the big gain in the proportion whose online offerings now include complete online programs (49% in 2002 and 71% in 2012).
  • The number of private nonprofit institutions with online offerings increased from 22% in 2002 to 48% in 2012.

MOOCs

  • Only 2.6 percent of higher education institutions currently have a MOOC, another 9.4 percent report MOOCs are in the planning stages.
  • The majority of institutions (55%) report they are still undecided about MOOCs, while one-third (33%) say they have no plans for a MOOC.
  • Academic leaders remain unconvinced that MOOCs represent a sustainable method for offering online courses, but do believe they provide an important means for institutions to learn about online pedagogy.
  • Academic leaders are not concerned about MOOC instruction being accepted in the workplace, but do have concerns that credentials for MOOC completion will cause confusion about higher education degrees.
Online learning as strategic to institution’s plans
  • The proportion of chief academic leaders that say online learning is critical to their long-term strategy is now at 69 percent – the highest it has been for this ten-year period.
  • Likewise, the proportion of institutions reporting online education is not critical to their long-term strategy has dropped to a new low of 11 percent.
Methodology
  • A total of 2,820 responses were included in the analysis, representing 62 percent of the sample universe (all active degree-granting institutions in the USA).  Because non-responding institutions are predominately those with the smallest enrollments, the institutions included in the analysis represents 83 percent of  higher education enrollments.
Comments

1. Elaine Allen and Jeff Seaman have provided a unique and invaluable service for the last ten years. Initially supported by the Sloan-C foundation for the first nine years and now supported by Pearson, this survey has provided the only comprehensive analysis of the growth of online learning in the USA. Its particular value is the consistency of methodology which allows for valid comparisons from year to year.

2. The results themselves this year are somewhat surprising. Almost one third of students in the USA are now taking at least one online course. Although growth is slowing somewhat, online enrollments are still outpacing the overall college enrollments in the USA. Nearly 70% of chief academic officers see online learning as strategic to their future plans.

3. I was surprised to note that even as early as 2002, over 90% of state-funded universities claimed to have at least some online courses. The private nonprofit (i.e. most of the elite universities) have been much slower moving in this direction with still less than half offering for credit programs.

4. The data clearly shows the over-reporting in the main media of MOOCs. Only 12% of institutions are offering or considering to offer MOOCs and as we have seen elsewhere, these are mainly the elite institutions who to date have been slow to recognize or accept the value of for-credit online programming. It is a pity less media attention has been focused on the 6.7 million online enrollments that have built slowly but steadily over the last 10 years. But then these weren’t at  Stanford, MIT or Harvard.

5. The report has some interesting observations on the time factor in teaching online. The report states:

Before the advent of MOOCs, the prototypical online course in U.S.higher education over the past decade has not been structured to provide large increases in efficiency.  Most online courses are very similar in design to existing face-to-face courses.  These courses typically run on the same semester schedule, cover the same corpus of material, represent the same number of credit hours, and are led by a single faculty member who is directly interacting with his or her students…..One result of building online courses that mirror the existing face-to-face framework has been they place additional demands on the faculty that teach them….. The most recent results show 44.6 percent of chief academic officers now report this to be the case, with only 9.7 percent disagreeing. However, the percent of academic leaders at for-profit institutions agreeing it takes more time and effort to teach online courses had dropped from 31.6 percent in 2006 to only 24.2 percent for 2012.

This suggests that the for-profits such as Phoenix and Kaplan have been more successful in scaling up online programs. There are several ways online learning could be done more cost-effectively in public institutions, from greater use of open educational resources, especially open textbooks, flexible instructional design, more planning, teamwork and design at a programming rather than a course level, greater sharing of materials and more inter-institutional collaboration and partnerships, especially for core undergraduate programs and specialized masters programs. Now that institutions are seeing online learning as of strategic importance, I hope we will see more concerted efforts at improving the cost-effectiveness of online learning.

6. I have just one caveat with all the surveys in this series. I have a concern that they may be unintentionally over-indicating the volume of online learning. Just two straws in the wind: in 2010, the government of Ontario in Canada did a comprehensive census (i.e. all institutions) and found that 13% of all course enrollments were in online courses, which is less than half the Babson figure. At the time, I thought this might be an indication that Canada was slower than the US in developing online learning. However, earlier this week, Dr. Andreea Serban, interim vice chancellor of education services at Coast Community College District, reported that in the California community college network, the number of online enrollments equalled 11% of full time equivalents – FTEs (identical to the figure for the Ontario two-year college system). One reason for the differences may be due to the way data are reported. The Babson survey reports on the number of students taking at least one online course (32% of all students). The Ontario survey required institutions to provide a detailed breakdown of their course enrollments from their registration data, and calculated this as a proportion of FTE enrollments, and I’m guessing that is how the California figures were also arrived at. The reason for the discrepancy is that students are probably taking fewer online than face-to-face courses, thus the FTE proportion is lower. However, I would argue that the proportion of students taking online courses in terms of FTEs  is the better ‘true’ measurement of the impact of online learning.

Despite the caveat, what is more important than the actual numbers is the trend, and on this the Babson survey is extremely consistent. We are seeing some indication that the rate of growth of for-credit online learning is beginning to slow (at one time there were annual increases of over 20%), and I suspect that the move to hybrid learning is likely to slow down further the growth of enrollments in fully online courses (although increasing the total number of students studying at least partly online). Allen and Seaman in fact also collected data on blended/hybrid learning in this year’s survey and I hope they will publish this data as well.

Lastly, despite (or perhaps because of) this detailed analysis of the results, I strongly recommend you go to the original report, which contains a great deal more than I’ve reported here, is clearly written and is well worth reading in full.