April 25, 2014

MITx – Continuing Education online?

Listen with webReader

Rogers building, MIT, 1901

Associated Press (2011) With an extra letter, MIT will offer certificates for coursework in popular online offerings Washington Post, December 18

Parry, M. (2011) MIT Will Offer Certificates to Outside Students Who Take Its Online Courses Chronicle of Higher Education, December 19

MIT has announced its intentions to offer a certificate to students who complete successfully  an online version of their courses. It’s not clear from the announcement whether these will be credit courses designed for online learning, or will depend on successful completion of a challenge exam built around MIT’s Opencourseware material.

Edudemic states:

This is big. M.I.T., the hub of education and technology where innovations seem to happen on an hourly basis… has just unveiled the future of online education. Basically, you can now earn official credits toward an M.I.T. certificate by taking their free and online courses.

But will someone explain to me why is this so special? Most universities now offer open access to continuing education courses online (often also offered as credit courses) and offer a certificate for successful completion (for instance Oxford University has been doing this for several years). UBC’s distance education courses were available to Open Learning Agency students as part of the BC open university degree as long ago as the late 198os. Why does the MIT initiative warrant this attention? Indeed, if it is a challenge exam based on recordings of classroom lectures, the completion rate is likely to be much lower than for courses designed for distance study, if the history of such courses over the last 50 years is anything to go by.

I fear that some of these elite institutions in the USA are making it up as they go and are failing to base their strategies on the substantial body of knowledge, research and experience that already exists about online learning and distance education. They are coming to the party late, making a mess, and bragging about it. Hubris is the word that comes to mind. Welcome to the 20th century, MIT – now how about the 21st?

See also Stephen Downes

Social media in higher education and barriers to change

Listen with webReader

photo of iPhone

Prof Hacker (2011) Revolution or Evolution? Social Technologies and Change in Higher Education Chronicle of Higher Education, January 25

A guest post from Derek Bruff, Dwayne Harapnuik, and Jim Julius, about a brainstorming session at the recent annual conference of the Professional and Organizational Development (POD) Network.

The top challenges identified:

  • Faculty mistrust technology.
  • Faculty need examples of effective uses of these technologies.
  • Loss of control when shifting from faculty-centered to student-centered learning
  • Not a high priority for faculty development professionals on a campus
  • Lack of a culture of openness to try technology among faculty
  • Perception that technology does not offer deep learning

The article then goes on to look at ways to address these challenges. The comments to the article are also well worth reading

What can the public sector learn from the for-profits?

Listen with webReader

Wood, P. (2011) For-profits break the monopoly on what college can be Chronicle of Higher Education, January 11

A thoughtful article on the pros and cons of for-profit post-secondary education. One chilling conclusion:

‘…the great American experiment of mass higher education will begin to dissolve over the next decade or so’.

Although it will resonate more in the USA than elsewhere, there are some points of relevance for other jurisdictions as well.

His main point is that we need more variety in post-secondary educational institutions, and that the monopoly of the predominant academic culture prevents many needs in post-secondary education from being filled in a cost-effective way. In the USA, for-profits offer an alternative route to the predominant culture.

In a country such as Canada, where there is relatively little public support for privatizing post-secondary education, can we build alternative public institutions that have a different mission, management structures, and delivery than those of the four year universities and two year colleges, that will provide a quality education (fit for purpose) at less cost? Or does the current system here already do that?

See also: How does the University of Phoenix measure up?

Making online courses accessible to blind students

Listen with webReader

Parry, M. (2010) Colleges lock out blind students online Chronicle of Higher Education, December 17

‘Colleges that wouldn’t dare put up a new building without wheelchair access now routinely roll out digital services that, for blind people, are the Internet equivalent of impassable stairs.’

This about says it all. The US Department of Education estimates that there are 75,000 visually impaired students in the USA. Most of the article is about one, admittedly activist, blind person, but it also provides access to a table that ‘scores’ a large number of US universities in their web accessibility for the blind (although I’m not so sure how accessible the Chronicle’s table is to the blind, who are the one’s who really need to know this – we all have to be careful not to throw stones on this issue because of our own glass houses.).

One point I strongly agree with in the article is that technology should make it better, not worse, for blind people. There are solutions out there (such as Readspeaker) that while not perfect for blind people, do make a big difference, at very little extra cost. It is more a question of sensitivity to the issue, and will to do something about it. Above all, accessibility tools should come as standard components of any learning management system.

See also:

Aggregated resources on online learning and the visually impaired

Online learning and students with disabilities

Keller, J. (2010) Cal State’s Strong Push for Accessible Technology gets results Chronicle of Higher Education, December 12

[Read more...]

The pros and cons of self-paced online learning

Listen with webReader

Parry, M. (2010) Will technology kill the academic calendar? Chronicle of Higher Education, October 10

This article is about a mid-west college in the US that is operating continuous enrolment in online courses, and provides a good introduction to the pros and cons of continuous enrolment.

Again, this is an old chestnut in distance education, long pre-dating online learning. In fact, the very first correspondence courses were all continuous enrolment, which might give a hint of where I stand on this. I, like Randy Garrison in the article, do have concerns about students studying in isolation from other students. The value of group work for developing critical thinking skills, social learning, and just learning a hell of a lot from other students, far outweighs the flexibility of not having to wait three months to start a course. Also, many students new to online learning need a clear structure, with deadlines, otherwise they procrastinate and delay until they get so far behind they drop out.

At the same time, some students do really want to get going as soon as they have made up their minds that they want to take an online course. (One could argue of course that a delay, giving time for second thoughts, might prevent someone from jumping in too quickly, without thinking through the implications).

However, there is also a middle route. Why not wait until say four students have registered, then start the course, with the four students working through together? As more students sign up, more groups can be started. Thus it’s like joining a moving walkway with other groups already further ahead, with others behind. The groups of course can see the work of other groups, allowing students who start later to see what students earlier have done. Students in fact could ‘jump’ from one group to another, going faster or slower, depending on their needs. The instructor of course has to deal with students at different stages in the course, but that is not a huge problem. In such a system, there would still be deadlines, with assignment dates linked to the date of starting. Again, students could have some choice, jumping ahead or delaying until they are ready, within certain boundaries, to encourage course completion (and to give the instructor a break).

To the argument in the article that this creates difficulties for registrars and administrative computer systems, my response is ‘tough’. Let’s say we started with continuous enrolment, then wanted to move to a  semester system. Can’t be done – the computer system won’t handle it. Sorry, but computers and administrators are there to help students, not the other way round.

Once again, I don’t think we need just one solution. Students have different needs. I can see a mature, already well-educated student being perfectly happy with self-paced study, but they are likely to manage this quite well without having to take a formal qualification in the first place. If they want informal help with informal learning, they can join Supercool School. Other students, particularly those new to online learning, will need a strong structure, a regular schedule, and other students to provide support and help. But for students somewhere in the middle, a ‘moving walkway’ program may be just what they need.