March 27, 2015

Yale University to offer an online master of medical science

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Yale University 2

Korn, M. (2015) Yale Will Offer Web-Based Master of Medical Science Degree Wall Street Journal, March 10

This for me is much more significant than the announcement of the first xMOOCs. It is a sign that even the elite Ivy League universities are recognising the validity of online learning for credit, even in the most demanding of subject areas, after ignoring or even denigrating online learning for many years.

However, before you all rush to sign up, note the sticker price: US$83,162 – the same cost as for the on-campus program, which has been limited to 40 students a year. One reason probably for such a high price for an online program is that Yale is contracting 2U Inc to help with the design and delivery of the program.

Another high cost factor is that the program requires hands-on clinical stints at field sites near students and at least three meetings on Yale’s New Haven, Conn., campus for activities such as cadaver dissection. Yale is aiming eventually for about 360 students across both the on-campus and online programs.

Yale’s move reinforces my view that there is still room for major expansion by top research universities into the online professional masters’ market. However, it will be important to price these at a level that makes them attractive to lifelong learners.

So good on Yale for leading the way for other Ivy League institutions. Now let’s hope someone else can do this at a more reasonable tuition fee (which in my view would be in the range of $15,000-$25,000 for the equivalent of a one year master’s program).

Going to Online Educa Berlin

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Online Educa Berlin begins next week. I will be attending for the first time in many years. If you are also going, I hope to meet you.

There are many interesting sessions at the conference. Some of these are highlighted in the Online Educa news service:

The Saudi Arabian Digital Library. The National Center for E-Learning (NCeL) of the Saudi Ministry of Higher Education was launched five years ago. Of its many projects, the Saudi Digital Library (SDL) is perhaps the most impressive. Launched in November 2010, the SDL holds more than 114 000 e-Books and reference works spanning various academic disciplines. It also manages the Maknaz repository which provides interactive learning objects in different formats such as photos, instructional movies, illustrations and so forth. Dr Abdullah Almegren, Assistant Professor of Education at King Saud University and the general manager of NCeL, will be speaking at the conference.

Research on the effective of virtual patients in the teaching of medicine. Martin Riemer and his co-author Martin Abendroth have spent the past year studying the use of virtual patients by hundreds of students at the University Medical Centre Hamburg-Eppendorf, Germany, and their findings shed light on how best virtual patients should be integrated into the curriculum.

OEB session CUL38, Learning Cultures: An International Perspective brings together speakers representing universities in Brazil, Russia and India in a panel discussion exploring theoretical discourse, technology implementation and factors supporting and hindering developments in open and distance learning.

In session VIR05, The Best Kept Secrets of Game-Based Learning, distinguished speakers will offer insight into how virtual environments and game-based learning can be integrated into school [and college] curricula seamlessly in order to increase learner motivation and enhance collaborative learning.

Lieve Van den Brande, a Principal Administrator at the Directorate-General for Education and Culture of the European Commission will present a paper entitled EU Policy for ICT in Education: A New Initiative on Creative Classrooms/Creative Learning Environments. The Europe 2020 strategy is an intricate ten-year plan to revive employment and stimulate the economy of the European Union. Such a plan requires educational goals that are simultaneously ambitious yet tenable. Lieve Van den Brande will discuss these in her presentation.

Pasi Vilpas, a biology teacher at the The Sotunki Distance Learning Centre in Vantaa, Finland, is presenting Teaching Genetics in The Second Life with a Large-Scale 3D-Model of DNA”. Pasi invited his pupils to enter the three-dimensional online virtual world of Second Life and walk and fly inside the crucial molecule.

These are just a tiny sample of the 400 presentations at the conference. The main challenge will be working out what I really must attend from all the range of options (and also to handle the bierkellers). Hope to see you on the Kurfurstendamm!


What is more important than grades?

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McMaster University Faculty of Medicine

In an earlier posting on the OECD’s PISA tests, there was some discussion about what was NOT measured in standardized tests of reading, science and math.

The Faculty of Medicine  at McMaster University, in industrial Hamilton, 65 kilometres south west of Toronto, has always been a leader in innovation in medical teaching, many years ago pioneering problem-based learning.

In yesterday’s Globe and Mail, there was an interesting article about a new online assessment of personal characteristics (CASPer = Computer-based Assessment for Sampling Personal Characteristics) that is used for selecting students for admission to its medical school. CASPer is a computerized version of a previously face-to-face interviewing schedule called the Multiple Mini Interview developed by Professor Harold reiter at McMaster that is now used by 12 of the 17 Canadian medical schools. CASPer uses videoed scenarios to which students must quickly respond as part of a two hour test.

What jumped out at me is that now grades counted for only one third of a student’s admission score. CASPer is now weighted double the students’ grade point average.

What are these computerized tests measuring? Good decision-making, ethics, communication skills, cultural sensitivity, etc.

Now it should be noted that students still have to have the highest standard in grade point average to even get to be interviewed by CASPer, so it is already choosing from the very bright, but it is an interesting example of the importance of measuring students on a wide range of factors and not just test scores alone.

Bradshaw, J. (2010) Brains alone won’t get you into med school Globe and Mail, December 13, p. A11

Using clickers on multiple sites in a distributed undergraduate medical program

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Terris, B. (2009) University Uses ‘Clickers’ to Quiz Students in Multiple Location Chronicle of Higher Education, September 14

The University of British Columbia recently completed a trial of a new satellite polling system by i>clicker, which sells student-response systems. The new system allowed students on three campuses, all part of the university’s Distributed Undergraduate Medical Program, to respond to questions in a simulcast lecture . I>clicker hopes to make the product widely available by January 2010.

The university’s Distributed Undergraduate Medical Program enrols students from across the province. Students can study at UBC’s main campus in Vancouver, or in partnership with the Universities of Victoria and Northern British Columbia, on the universities’ campuses at Victoria and Prince George. Programs are delivered in more than 80 communities in BC, and include nine clinical academic campuses and 13 affiliated regional centres located in hospitals across the province. The problem-based program is delivered through a mix of local small-group face-to-face sessions, video-conferenced lectures, an extensive set of web-based resources, and local clinical laboratory work. For more on this very successful program (resulting in more GPs working outside the main urban area of Vancouver) see:

Snadden, D. and Bates, J. (2005) Expanding undergraduate medical education in British Columbia: a distributed campus model CMAJ, Vol. 173, No. 6

Can you teach ‘real’ engineering at a distance?

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This blog is prompted by an e-mail from Rich Zuc, who wanted to know why there were no undergraduate degrees in engineering offered at a distance. With his permission, his letter is reproduced below, with my answers.

Rich wrote:

I am a resident of Hamilton Ontario and I am interested in online and distance learning (DL)  as I am seeking to pursue an undergraduate program in engineering/science.

I left university in my early 20s, in the mid 1990s, due to family commitments and never had the opportunity to complete an undergraduate engineering degree. Back then I started looking for an engineering/science degree offered via distance learning by a Canadian university; I did carry out extensive internet searches but to no avail. I have kept on searching ever since. Now, with 2010 just around the corner the online/DL situation in Canada, with respect to providing science and engineering degrees, has not changed at all!! There are very very few traditional brick and mortar Canadian universities that offer online/DL 4 year honours undergraduate degrees in the Arts and Social Sciences and practically no traditional brick and mortar institution offers an online/DL honours degree in engineering/science!!!

Do you expect that opportunities in engineering and science, via online/DL programs offered by traditional brick and mortar Canadian schools, are likely to remain as they are…that is non-existent!! Or based on your experience do you foresee some change in the not too distant future? Do you feel that this has to do mainly with: resistance by universities’ committees, boards, governing bodies or faculty members?

I replied:

You raise an important issue here. As far as I know (and I’m not an engineer) you are correct – there are no undergraduate engineering degrees that are offered entirely online or at a distance in Canada, and very few at undergraduate level in the USA. Some organisations, such as Stanford University, offer graduate engineering programs online. You can do several certificate programs in ‘hard’ engineering from the British Columbia Institute of Technology by distance. I’m not sure whether you can transfer these courses into a regular undergraduate degree, thus shortening the time on campus, but generally you can in British Columbia. (Whether Ontario institutions will accept them is much more problematic). Have a look at the BCIT Civil Engineering site which has good questions and answers on the distance programs they offer. There are computer science programs available online from a limited number of Canadian institutions, but I know of no whole undergraduate programs in the ‘hard’ engineering areas, civil, mechanical or electrical.

This is not because it would be impossible to design a high quality engineering distance education program, using a combination of online teaching, simulations and limited laboratory time at an accredited local institution. There are successful design models for this in other professions, such as medicine.

There are several reasons for why there are no undergraduate engineering programs offered by distance delivery. The main obstacle is the professional accreditation agencies, who require students to have a very high level of laboratory classroom time in a program before accepting a degree for professional accreditation. There is a belief that engineering is very much a hands-on profession and needs personal supervision within a laboratory context.

A second obstacle is the very high cost of designing laboratory simulations in engineering that might replace physical labs for online students. Some progress is being made in this area, but the whole area lacks sustainable business models – it’s a chicken and egg situation: lack of recognition for online learning limits large scale applications.

Interestingly, there is growing evidence that engineering can be taught successfully online in apprenticeship programs – or at least mainly online. Vancouver Community College runs a very successful program for apprentices in car body work repairs (E-pprentice), reducing a 13 week semester course to three weeks on campus at the end of the course, with the rest being done online. BCCampus is now managing a program funded by BC’s Industrial Training Agency for flexible delivery of trades training across the province that combines online learning with local supervision of hands-on skills development.

However, I cannot see the universities moving in this direction unless there is a real crisis in getting engineering students. There are no incentives for them to offer alternative delivery. The focus of most engineering professors is on research and they would prefer to have fewer rather than more students, as teaching interferes with research. There are in North America still plenty of well qualified applicants for undergraduate campus-based engineering programs.

Having said this, engineering does compare badly to another professional area, medicine. The medics have been much more innovative in using distance education. For instance in BC, a partnership between the main hospitals, UBC, UNBC, and University of Victoria has resulted in a distributed education model for the M.D. program in the province, so people don’t have to move to Vancouver where the only medical school is located. What drove this was the need to retain doctors in the regions, rather than have them all move to Vancouver. Note again though that this is a graduate, distributed learning program, and is not fully online.

Now over to you, readers. Can you answer the following questions:

1. Name one North American university that offers an entire undergraduate civil, mechanical or electrical engineering by distance that is accepted for accreditation by a professional engineering organization.

2. Do you agree that it would be possible to design and deliver a high quality undergraduate engineering degree for entirely distance delivery (allowing for perhaps local hands-on supervision by employers or summer school at a regular university)?

2. If so, why are there no or so few undergraduate programs at a distance in engineering?

It would be really good to hear from some engineering faculty on this topic.