Tag Archives: The Chronicle of Higher Education

MOOCs Are Dead. Long Live Online Higher Education.

By Phil Hill

Last week marked five years since Stanford University introduced to the world the classes that would soon spark a frenzy over massive open online courses.

On August 16, 2011, Stanford unveiled three courses, taught by Sebastian Thrun, Andrew Ng, and Jennifer Widom, all computer scientists at the university. Their MOOCs borrowed key designs from Daphne Koller, another Stanford professor who led much of that institution’s early efforts in blended learning. By the following spring, Mr. Thrun had founded Udacity, Mr. Ng and Ms. Koller had founded Coursera, and MIT and Harvard University had founded edX, seeking to use MOOCs to transform higher education.

The age of the commercially oriented MOOCs, as driven by their most prominent supporters, had begun.

Fast forward to the present, and we have now witnessed the end of an era. While Mr. Ng, Ms. Koller, and Mr. Thrun remain on the boards of their respective companies, the biggest advocates of commercial MOOCs have moved on.

Mr. Ng left Coursera in 2014 for Baidu, focusing on deep learning research. Mr. Thrun stepped down as chief executive of Udacity in April of this year to reduce his day-to-day responsibilities. He is now president of Kitty Hawk, a company focused on the development of flying cars. And Ms. Koller recently left Coursera to become chief computing officer at Calico, a company that researches human aging.

These days, no one considers MOOCs to be the future of education or a threat to the modern university, as had been so frequently claimed when the courses were first attracting international media attention. Udacity has shifted its focus to job-skills training, and Coursera and edX are still searching for ways to bring in long-lasting revenue.

So will these changes in corporate vision and leadership change the long-term trajectory of MOOCs?

[ Full article (subscription needed) available at The Chronicle of Higher Education: ]

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Posted by on August 26, 2016 in Op-Ed



Are MOOCs Forever?

By Jeffrey R. Young

This is the latest episode of our new podcast series on the future of higher education. You can subscribe in iTunes, to get prior and future episodes.

Think back to the early days of MOOCs. Professors at Stanford and Harvard and other places were suddenly teaching really big classes, free. Hundreds of thousands of students at once were in those courses. It was an unprecedented giveaway of what had traditionally been the most expensive education in the world.

Back then, I met several students who were binging on the courses the way you might binge-watch a season of your favorite show on Netflix. They took as many courses as they possibly could, powering through and finishing as many as 30 courses in a year. When I asked why they were in such a hurry, the most popular reason was that they thought it was all too good to last. As one of those binging students told me, “I’m just afraid this whole thing might end soon.” Surely, universities would change their mind about this, or the start-ups working with colleges might lock things up.

Fast forward to last month, when Coursera did something that stirred up all of those concerns again. On June 30 the company deleted hundreds of its earliest courses, as part of a shift to a new software platform. Reaction, as you might expect, was negative on social media and blogs. One programmer called it cultural vandalism.

To be fair, many of the courses will actually be brought back on the new platform. For the company, the reason to upgrade was a philosophical shift, to offering courses that start on demand rather than just once or twice a year, as their early courses did. Coursera said it had found that completion rates were just better when people could start at their own convenience, but the episode did raise continuing concerns about the future of MOOCs. Will the free courses really stick around, and do MOOCs have staying power?

[ Full article available at The Chronicle of Higher Education: ]

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Posted by on July 14, 2016 in Industry News, MOOCs in the News



A University’s Offer of Credit for a MOOC Gets No Takers

Students and their professor looking at a computer screen.

Students at as many as seven colleges will earn course credits for MOOCs this fall, predicts Ray Schroeder (standing), vice chancellor for online learning at U. of Illinois at Springfield.
[ U. of Illinois at Springfield ]

It was big news last fall when Colorado State University-Global Campus became the first college in the United States to grant credit to students who passed a MOOC, or massive open online course.

For students, it meant a chance to get college credit on the cheap: $89, the cost of the required proctored exam, compared with the $1,050 that Colorado State charges for a comparable three-credit course.

That is a big discount.

Yet almost a year after Global Campus made the announcement, officials are still waiting for their first credit bargain-hunters.

Not one student has taken the university up on its offer.

Jon Bellum, the provost, said the university had not expected a deluge of transfer credits from Udacity, the MOOC provider it is working with. The offer applied to only a single MOOC, in computer science, and the credits might be useful only to students who intended to finish their degrees at Global Campus.

The Colorado university is not the only one that has noticed a lack of activity on the pathways between MOOCs and credit-bearing programs.

The Council of Adult and Experiential Learning, through its LearningCounts program, helps adult students assemble evidence of outside-the-classroom learning into portfolios that can be redeemed for credit at some colleges.

After free online courses exploded onto the scene, the council expected that freelance learners would come calling in hope of converting their MOOC success into college credit.

But none did.

[ Full article available at The Chronicle of Higher Education: ]





Distance Ed’s Second Act

By Phil Hill

Now that the MOOC hype has died down and almost no one is arguing that those free online courses will upend the traditional university, are we instead entering a period where online education is having a real impact on the core of higher education? Not just for the for-profit outliers and not just for distance-education titans like Rio Salado College and Liberty University, but for the mainstream? While I would not argue that fundamental change has already occurred, there are some signs of a turning point.

The Babson Survey Research Group, which has tracked online college enrollment for the past 12 years, reports growth from 9 percent of U.S. students taking at least one course online in the fall of 2002 to more than 28 percent in the fall of 2014. The overall growth has slowed recently, but the drastic decrease in for-profit enrollment masks two very interesting numbers:

  • Sixty-seven percent of students taking online courses do so at public institutions.
  • The number of students at public and private nonprofit colleges who took at least one online course rose by 26 percent in just two years (2012-2014).

Online education is no longer the province of a small subset of colleges and professors. We are well above the 16-to-20-percent level in Everett Rogers’s technology-adoption curve that indicates a shift into the mainstream. As I described in a previous article, the characteristics of people trying out a new approach (primarily professors in this discussion) change significantly after the technology moves beyond the innovators and early adopters. You start getting people who are more cautious and even skeptical about the outcomes and who need more holistic support to make the jump. We are seeing signs that more and more professors accept that online education is inevitable, even in traditional institutions, and is appropriate for a growing number of nontraditional students and a growing number of disciplines.

[ Full article available at The Chronicle of Higher Education: ]



This Mongolian Teenager Aced a MOOC – Now He Wants to Widen Their Impact

Photo of Battushig Myanganbayar

Battushig Myanganbayar

Free online courses changed the life of one super-smart Mongolian teenager. His name is Battushig Myanganbayar, and four years ago, while he was still a high-school student in Ulan Bator, he took a massive open online course from MIT. It was one of the first they had ever offered, about circuits and electronics, and he was one of about a hundred and forty thousand people to take it. He not only passed, he was one of about three hundred who got a perfect score. He was only 15 years old.

He was hailed in The New York Times and other media outlets as a boy wonder, and soon he got accepted to the real MIT campus. It was a feel-good story that matched the hopeful narrative about MOOCs at the time. These free courses were touted as a way to bring top education to underserved communities around the world. The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman soon wrote that “Nothing has more potential to unlock a billion more brains to solve the world’s biggest problems.” This was the peak of the MOOC hype.

Today, Mr. Myanganbayar remains a fan of MOOCs, but he also has a critique of this knowledge giveaway, and he questions how much good it’s really doing for people in the developing world.

After taking a MOOC, “What do you do?” he asks. “If you’re just learning for the sake of the learning, the knowledge alone is useless without the opportunity to build, or show, or to use it.”

While at MIT, he has continued to take free online courses on the side, especially those on data science to help him with research projects that he’s worked on here. Like many students that I’ve met at MIT, he’s focused on trying to solve real-world problems with his student research — he helped build an electronic glove for the blind, for instance — and that’s his main problem with how colleges have handled MOOCS.

[ Full article available at The Chronicle of Higher Education: ]

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Posted by on May 4, 2016 in MOOCs in the News



More Colleges Turn to ‘Stackable’ Degrees as Entries to Graduate Programs

As the costs of graduate education skyrocket and students demand cheaper, more-convenient ways of learning, colleges and universities are increasingly experimenting with so-called “stackable degrees.” Think Lego blocks of college education, letting students start with a MOOC, then add a few more MOOCs to get an online certificate, then add yet more courses to get a traditional master’s degree.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign announced such a degree on Wednesday. Starting this fall, students can enroll in an online master’s degree in data science, offered in conjunction with Coursera, the for-profit platform that produces massive open online courses.

The cost of the full master’s program is $19,200, dramatically less than the price of an on-campus master’s program.

“This is a future” of graduate education, says John C. Hart, a professor of computer science and executive associate dean of graduate studies at Illinois. “But we are not abandoning our on-campus courses.”

Since the university runs a top program in computer science, it gets far more applicants than it can accept. Over the last several years, Mr. Hart said officials have been looking at how to scale the program to accommodate students from around the world.

The university established the program building on MOOC sequences it had already created on the Coursera platform that lead to certificates in two computer-science specializations: data mining and cloud computing. Students who have already received those certificates will have a head start toward finishing the new degree, since those certificates make up two of the four distinct areas of study. The others are data visualization and machine learning. If admitted into the program, students could trade in those certificates for course credit.

[ Full article available at The Chronicle of Higher Education: ]

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Posted by on March 30, 2016 in Industry News, MOOCs in the News



Mapping a MOOC Reveals Global Patterns in Student Engagement


Mapping the location of the 49,000 students who take my online course revealed some interesting patterns.

By Anthony C. Robinson

Teaching an online course that 49,000 students have signed up for presents an unprecedented challenge when it comes to an important aspect of instruction: knowing your audience.

I could see from my course “dashboard” in Coursera that the students hailed from 190 countries, with 6 percent from India, 31 percent from the United States, and so on, but these numbers only took me so far. I wondered which places had lots of students earning a passing grade? Which places had students who were really engaged with the course?

Since I’m a cartographer, it made sense to make some maps.

Relatively little has been done so far with mapping student engagement in MOOCs, so I worked with colleagues in the past year on a research project supported by the Center for Online Innovation in Learning at Pennsylvania State University. Using the Internet addresses logged by more than 49,000 students in my MOOC called “Maps and the Geospatial Revolution,” my graduate assistant, Sterling Quinn, geocoded student locations and tied this information to survey responses and course interactions that Coursera tracks for every student. Using this data set, Carolyn Fish, a graduate student, then created a series of maps to help us explore geographic patterns in MOOC participation.

We began by looking beyond just the number of students from each country, using a technique called hexbin mapping to show places that had at least 10 students, which helps us focus on areas with significant enrollments.

[ Full article available at The Chronicle of Higher Education: ]

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Posted by on January 11, 2016 in Industry News, MOOCs in the News



MIT Master’s Program to Use MOOCs as ‘Admissions Test’

L. Rafael Reif, president of MIT, shown here with the under secretary of education, Ted Mitchell, at a recent online-learning summit, said on Wednesday that he hopes a new twist on admissions will lead to a broader pool of applicants.

L. Rafael Reif, president of MIT, shown here with the under secretary of education, Ted Mitchell, at a recent online-learning summit, said on Wednesday that he hopes a new twist on admissions will lead to a broader pool of applicants.
[ Photo MIT ]

MOOCs may soon become a prominent factor in admissions decisions at selective colleges, a way for students who may not do well on traditional measures like the SAT to prove they can hack it.

That’s the argument by officials at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which on Wednesday announced a plan to create what it calls an “inverted admissions” process, starting with a pilot project within a master’s program in supply-chain management.

Students who do well in a series of free online courses and a related online examination offered through MIT’s MOOC project, MITx, will “enhance their chances” of being accepted to the on-site master’s program, according to a university statement. Students who come to the program after first taking the MOOCs will then essentially place out of the first half of the coursework, so they can finish the degree in a semester rather than an academic year. That effectively makes the master’s program half the usual price.

L. Rafael Reif, president of MIT, said in an interview on Wednesday that he hopes the new twist on admissions will lead to a broader pool of applicants. “We will find people who never thought they would be able to apply,” he said. Such students might take the free online courses “because why not?” he adds, “and they will discover that they are much stronger in the global competition than they think.”

Sanjay Sarma, MIT’s dean of digital learning, said the traditional admissions process was “an inexact science.” He noted that with applicants coming from around the world, they often submit grades and scores from institutions that admissions officers aren’t familiar with. “What this system does,” he said, “is it lets anyone prove their merit.”

[ Full article available at The Chronicle of Higher Education: ]

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Posted by on October 7, 2015 in Industry News, MOOCs in the News



What the Results of a Survey of Coursera Students Mean for Online Learning

By Ellen Wexler

When Coursera, Udacity, and edX started up within four months of one another, in 2012, The New York Times declared it the year of the MOOC. Now that the clamor is dying down, researchers are gauging what actually has developed in terms of massive open online courses.

A report released this week draws on a survey of Coursera students to look at their motivations and what kinds of educational and career results they are seeing. Published in the Harvard Business Review, it is the first study of Coursera students’ self-reported learning outcomes.

“Our intuition has always been that education opens doors to opportunity,” said Daphne Koller, one of Coursera’s founders, in an interview on Monday. “But intuition is one thing, and data are another.”

Conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Washington, and Coursera, the survey asked 52,000 students who had taken at least one Coursera course why they had done so.

The report sorted students into two categories: career builders and education seekers. Most of the career builders, 87 percent, reported “career benefits” from the courses. But that category comprises things as varied as starting a business and becoming better equipped for a current job. Thirty-three percent reported what the researchers call “tangible career benefits,” like finding a new job or getting a promotion.

“The tangible career benefits is a higher bar in some sense,” said Gayle Christensen, assistant vice provost at the University of Washington and an author of the report. “A third of people saying that they were able to make these clear next steps is actually something that one should be optimistic about.”

[ Full article available at The Chronicle of Higher Education: ]

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Posted by on September 22, 2015 in Industry News, MOOCs in the News


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This Is How Students Cheat in MOOCs

By Andy Thomason

Researchers at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have identified a way students are cheating to earn credit in MOOCs. The method is the subject of a working paper, “Detecting and Preventing ‘Multiple-Account’ Cheating in Massive Open Online Courses,” published online on Monday.

According to the researchers, some students are creating at least two accounts in a MOOC — one or more with which to purposely fail assignments in order to discover the correct answers, which they use to ace the assignments in their primary account.

[ Full article available at The Chronicle of Higher Education: ]

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Posted by on August 25, 2015 in Industry News, MOOCs in the News


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