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Is the shine coming off of MOOCs?

07.23.2013
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Gartner’s Hype Cycle looks at the various phases many new technologies go through when they first hit the marketplace.  A key phase is the peak of inflated expectations, where hype generally runs free and unrealistic expectations are had for a particular technology.

The technology suffers for this inflated sense of expectation, and a trough of disillusionment follows as those expectations aren’t met, before more realistic achievements are made (or alternatively the technology drifts away).

It’s hard to ignore the huge impact MOOCs have made over the past 18 months, with courses regularly attracting over 100,000 registrants.  With such popularity has come claims that they are going to revolutionise tertiary education.

Is that a realistic expectation, or are they following the hype cycle of inflated expectations?  If you ask San Jose University they might think just that.  They announced this week that they are suspending their for credit courses on the Udacity website after more than half of those who enrolled on their courses failed to pass them.

In their math related courses pass rates varied from 20% to 44%.  The end of the experiment represents a blow for MOOC sites hoping to use the San Jose experiment to encourage other schools to offer for credit courses via their platforms.

“There are many complex factors that relate to student performance, and we’re trying to study the factors that help or hinder students in this environment,”said San Jose State Provost Ellen Junn.

The courses had an initial class of 100 students and were supported by the National Science Foundation.  In addition to math related courses, ones on computer science and psychology were offered, with students paying $150 for the course.

Is this a sign that MOOC courses are not fit for taking the place of traditional courses, or simply showing that more refinement is needed for them to make a serious dent in the university market?  An official statement by San Jose and Udacity suggests the latter

“The improvements we are considering include developing introductory materials that will help students prepare for and engage in college-level online classes. We would also like to look at the impact of the frequency of quizzes for grades and other similar incentives to help students move through the material in a timely manner. Another focus will be to explore opportunities to move to open-registration, self-paced classes with student-set deadlines.”

It appears that not enough was done to ensure students were sufficiently prepared for the course before beginning.  For instance, many students did not even have a computer, which was something the course mentors did not become aware of for several weeks.“We learned that we could have prepared them better about what it means to take an online course and that this is a university course with real faculty teaching for university credit,”they said.“Maybe some students didn’t take it quite seriously.”

Students in the summer courses received more support, and initial evidence suggests their results will be better.  The suspension of the courses for the remainder of the year will allow the school to assess how the courses went and what lessons can be learnt.  The plan is to resume the course again in the spring.

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