Category Archives: Online Learning

A MOOC Strategy that Worked

It appears that Udacity, one of the early MOOCs, founded by Sebastian Thrun, has found a profitable model based on vocational training. When the MOOCs started out the assumed model was the college course which made total sense with respect to attracting university partners and investment dollars. What a frenzy they created 3-4 years ago as the elite universities strutted their expertise in education technology. MOOCs could make college accessible to the masses, unfortunately, that may not have been what the masses needed nor what the higher education wanted. The elite universities jumped on the bandwagon to make sure they had some control over the destiny of these Massively Open Online Courses, MOOCs. MOOCs have been successful with respect to exposure of college courses to the masses but they have been a dismal failure when evaluated against traditional college courses. That is exactly what higher education wanted, validation that their course delivery model was superior to these new online options.

The New York Times article, “Udacity Says It Can Teach Tech Skills to Millions, and Fast” gives us the story on how transitioning to a vocational training model is paying off for Udacity’s bottom line and for the careers of their students. The test market was obvious, software development, which has been pioneering new models based on the boot camp concept of intensive training typically under the guidance of the interested employers. Good jobs exist for coders of today’s popular development platforms. AT&T has been a leader in trying to manipulate the traditional computer science degree feeder system. I was highly impressed with their Georgia Tech and Udacity partnership to create an affordable MS degree in Computer Science. But that degree program was about affordability and marketing, not about a more successful MOOC model.

Udacity’s new program, Nanodegree, “Credentials built and recognized by industry leaders to advance your career”, appears to be the successful outcome to all of the trial and error experience gained by the MOOCs. The financial commitment of $200 per month with the incentive to receive half of it back upon successful program completion within a year is the motivation needed by the 10,000 students currently enrolled. The concept is still work at your own pace so one could turn this into a very affordable boot camp solution. I am currently enrolled in the Udacity course “JavaScript Basics” for the fun of it and so far Udacity has done an excellent job of coaching me to be successful.

The MOOC supporters such as AT&T may have finally found the right formula with Udacity’s Nanodegree. Instead of hiring college graduates with programming aptitude and retraining them maybe the corporate employers have finally found a way to satisfy their appetite for software developers.

TLT at S&T March 12-13, 2015

Fresh back from the ELI Conference I wanted to compare the agenda for our upcoming Teaching and Learning Technology Conference, TLT, scheduled for March 12-13 here at the Missouri University of Science and Technology campus in Rolla, MO. This conference has matured over the years to be a leading regional conference for Education Technology. Under the direction of Meg Brady, Director, and Angie Hammons, Manager, of Education Technology at Missouri S&T, this conference has an all star lineup with extremely relevant sessions. 

Plus: TLT will be hosting a CanvasCon by Instructure on the 12th.

The Keynote Speakers:

Robbie K. Melton, Ph.D. — Associate Vice Chancellor of Mobilization Emerging Technology; Tennessee Board of Regents,  “The Emergence of Mobile and Smart Devices: Is Your Device Smarter than You?”

Jeff Schramm, Ph.D. — Associate Professor of History & Political Science; Missouri S&T, “MOOC’s, LMS, ELI, PRR, CB&Q and EMD: What the history of technology can teach us about the future of higher education.”

I love the fact that this conference brings together many innovative professors in higher education along with their Instructional Designers, Developers and Technologists, plus many from K-12 who want to make sure their students are properly prepared for college. TLT does carry some Missouri S&T STEM influence but I believe that it only strengthens how EdTech is applied to the liberal arts community. An exciting area of development in the last year has been with the preparation of virtual labs for chemistry and biology.

OH yes, did I mention that our TLT is FREE….

MOOCs Find Their Niche

There are many reactions to Rebecca Schuman’s article about Sebastian Thrun and Udacity’s “pivot” toward corporate training. Everything from ”I told you so” to “shame on Udacity”. And this is not just about the failed pilot with San Jose State to utilize Udacity to provide greater opportunity to the underserved students in their community. Although Sebastian was a bit too candid in his appraisal. I attribute that more to early confusion about what MOOCs were really about. I do believe that MOOCs have finally come of age and can be utilized for what you wish. But we can’t make a MOOC what it isn’t. MOOCs are a product of our time leveraging the incredible capability of media distribution thanks to the amazing Internet. Let’s face it, anything that can be placed on the Internet generally does and the number of hits or users is the validation of success.

MOOCs were validated by Internet success statistics and the world clamored to define them. How quickly the innocence of experimentation with massive online delivery of a few college courses turned into a disruptive movement within higher education. But disruption is all MOOCs needed to be. Udacity is a company commercializing the delivery of interesting college type courses to to world. If the courses maintained the strict requirements of their traditional university origins then we found that not that many students could really succeed. So to many academics that was a validation of the ineffectiveness of online learning. But I think we had already proven the value of online learning. All that was happening with the various MOOC providers was experimentation with a valid business model.

The business model for a Udacity appears to be steering toward the corporate or continuing education market. Profit needs to be realized and that is not a problem when you have engaged users. The key is the engagement. EdX which more closely emulates higher education standards is up front about their value proposition of research in effective online delivery of courses. And Coursera probably falls in between. MOOCs are now carving out their various business niches just like the many other social networking industries have done. And I think higher education can relax a bit from the fearful prediction that MOOCs would change their world. MOOCs have been disruptive as documented in Jeffrey Young’s new book “Beyond the MOOC Hype: A Guide to Higher Education’s High-Tech Disruption”. I think we also realize that disruption can be healthy and MOOCs are truly stimulating a lot of efforts to improve teaching and learning in our educational institutions.

November 24, 2013 by Jeff Selingo – MOOCs Move Beyond the Perfect Media Narrative

Invest in Your Differentiator

I started writing a post about why universities are trying to be all things to all students. How universities are expending so much energy trying to defend their product rather than being content with their product. But as I got deeper into the post I realized the problem is all about financial aid. Our universities could all be content to fit into the model that they carve out for themselves. But the common denominator that forces them all to be accountable to a common model is the all-powerful dollar provided by financial aid. Darn, I don’t think I have an answer for how to manage financial aid. Wealthy private institutions don’t have to worry but most every other institution does.

My original motivation for the post had to do with how much effort is expended for the purpose of justifying that all students are given an equal opportunity to succeed. Many institutions of higher education are dealing with validation of learning outcomes. So we have remediation, retention, and assessment programs all to prove that we are fulfilling these nebulous requirements for producing a successful graduate. What got me thinking was that it may be OK for students to fail. I am at a significantly STEM based university that has nothing to apologize for. It is not easy to obtain an engineering degree, nor should it be. Yes it is justified for us to expend a fair amount of energy to make sure that we are offering a fair opportunity for an engineering student to succeed but that is our differentiator.

The overwhelming landscape of higher education is strewn with institutions expending enormous amounts of resources trying to validate who they are and why investment in their product is justified. This has caused great confusion for many of these institutions about who they should become. There is great overlap now for obtaining an undergraduate college degree with lively debate about the value of those degrees. But I think it is time for many institutions to retreat and choose a path that they can focus their full attention on. If you can only survive by competing in the commodity game of increasing your enrollment or raising your price, then understand the commodity game. Understand that a degree based on information has become free to the world and it is no longer the differentiator. The price for that degree will only go down. So what is your differentiator?

Now is the time to invest in your differentiator. State institutions should eliminate overlap and quit competing with themselves. States should not be afraid to cap enrollment and allow competition to dictate a student’s options. All students have options even if they do not want to compete. Online learning will only be a financial strategy for the large efficient online programs. All institutions still need to invest in blended learning because it is a requirement for today’s learner. But most of all, invest in your differentiator. That may be the residential experience, student life, research opportunities, athletics, honor’s programs, unique degrees, and even highly effective teachers. But quit trying to compete for that elusive target of academic excellence unless it promotes one of your differentiators.

The Game keeps Changing, Coursera Offers Solutions for Public Higher Education

Coursera announced today that it is working with 10 Public Universities to essentially facilitate the sharing, brokering and delivery of online courses. There are lot’s of questions and secrets but the bottom line is there are significant Public University Systems exploring the use of Coursera to provide an online learning service that they have not been able to do themselves. I see these institutions as hedging their bets on where they think Higher Education may be going. And guess what, faculty are not happy and feel left out of the conversation. Yes, most of them are, but that is their choice. My advice to faculty is to make sure you understand what is really happening. This is the business side of higher education and you are an employee of that business.

I read into a few of these university systems as looking to Coursera to help them accomplish what they have not been able to achieve internally. I am a part of state system that has a goal to grow online learning and make it equally available to all students within our 4 campus system. Guess what, this is not easy even if we did have popular support. But I could justify partnering with a MOOC to solve all of our logistical and administrative problems. Heck they would probably solve our political problems and we could blame them for it. This is serious business. I believe and support the fact that online learning provides better learning analytics, which those of us not involved with online learning, are scrambling to find a way to identify.

We have Retention and Assessment initiatives that rely on technology that we hope will provide us the answers to validate that our educational systems are still the best. But we are ignoring the truth that today’s learners really can thrive with online options.

We are not missing the boat we have chosen not to board it.

I applaud Coursera and Udacity for stretching their model based on their strengths. Sure it is good for the investors but it is not bad for the industry. The MOOCs may very well give us the educational model that we have all talked about, where our students are allowed to take the best course available for every subject. However, when we talked about this or were questioned about it we never really believed it would be possible. FastCompany’s article today drives home this point. The MOOCs are just helping us to serve a greater number of students more effectively, isn’t that “Our Mission”.

Here’s the full list of public universities partnering with Coursera:

  • The State University of New York (SUNY)
  • Tennessee Board of Regents
  • University of Tennessee System
  • University of Colorado System
  • University of Houston System
  • University of Kentucky
  • University of Nebraska
  • University of New Mexico
  • University System of Georgia
  • West Virginia University

For more coverage on today’s announcement:

GT’s partnership with Udacity & AT&T is a game changer

We have had about a week to digest the latest MOOC bombshell that Georgia Tech is offering an online MS in Computer Science via a partnership with Udacity and funding from AT&T. An offering of an affordable degree, approximately $7000, conferred by Georgia Tech delivered via Udacity’s MOOC engine. Oh yes, available for free through that same engine but with no official blessing. Reaction from our higher ed community is more jaw dropping by the EdTech folks and skepticism by the traditional academic. 

This latest move is just another sign pointing to the changing world of higher education. Agree or disagree but change is happening. What is significant to me about this deal is the AT&T investment. Traditional funding for public higher education is under siege by  constituents who are requiring outcome assessment, as in, what is the value proposition for a college degree. Employers just want validation of skills and thinking so they can filter their employment recruiting pool. So do you think this deal for AT&T is about hiring only those graduates from Georgia Tech. No it is probably about access to all of the other student taking the courses for free. The actual degree must be validated with official assessment, hence the $7000 price tag. Here lies the real significance of this bombshell. This program will generate a quantifiable comparison of of the outcomes of the degree vs non degree students.

I really admire Georgia Tech for hedging their bet with this innovative move. They win either way, but what about the rest of higher education on the sidelines still claiming that online learning will never be able to produce qualified employees? Notice I said employees not graduates.

Distance Education of the Future

I came to Missouri S&T a little over a month ago and discovered that our Distance Education Program really was that, courses delivered over a distance. My initial thought was how outdated that was, actually still trying to deliver a bricks & mortar experience to students afar. Isn’t that where online learning got started? What I found out was that Distance Education has come a long way.  We deliver courses anywhere in the world with an equivalent  experience approaching that of physical presence in the classroom. We do this with technology and sophisticated television production style studio classrooms. And we have a lot of them.

Of course the opportunity to deliver a true classroom experience to a remote student works very well for many of our STEM, typically engineering courses. For example, offering aerospace or nuclear engineering courses to specific industrial sectors is a valuable service. Leveraging our metro campus to allow highly renown adjunct professors to deliver courses across our university is a critical strategy. So how does this all fit into the trends pushing online and blended learning. Does the MOOC craze cause concern? Actually I find S&T in a very unique situation. I have long been a proponent of improving traditional classroom delivery with blended learning techniques. I agree with the overwhelming research that shows that blended learning translates into more effective learning. But now I get to look for ways to improve Distance Education with blended learning tools.

Let me break it down. We deliver our courses to the remote student with the highest quality of virtual immersion into the actual classroom. We rely on the finest streaming video and phone conferencing tools. Many classroom cameras offer our small army of video production operators great license to produce the ultimate immersion experience. The instructor is equipped with numerous feedback mechanisms that do not interfere with what would be their normal lecture. They do need to adapt to the use of a green screen but once that occurs I think the instructor really appreciates the more flexible presentation options. All of this is captured in HiRes HD video file made available for replay or to build asynchronous delivery options.

Our unique opportunity is that we started with the highest quality classroom experience packaged for digital manipulation and distribution. New tools like Kaltura for multi format video distribution or inline video mastery quizzing allow us to enhance this experience for the asynchronous model. We are not approaching this from the need to create more affordable course delivery, but instead we strive to offer a more valuable course delivery model. Isn’t that what the elite universities are really trying to do with the MOOC experiment. They know they must discover and incorporate the most effective components of blended learning to ensure that their Bricks & Mortar product will always be the most desired. I am more excited to be approaching this from the other direction.

These MOOCs are Shaking Things Up

The MOOC debate is not going away. Offering free online courses whether Massive or not is part of the Higher Ed landscape. Early on we tried to dissect why these elite institutions were participating in the MOOC phenomenon. Of course it was about research and goodwill but I always leaned to control and marketing. How better to deal with this emerging validated course delivery model then to help define it. Reminds me a bit of the various UNIX or open source software initiatives that always had the support of the key industry players only to insure that the initiatives never gained any momentum. I do still believe that these MOOCs are defining the baseline for a online course which helps to keep the lower tier of online courses from establishing any quality validation. But the “cat is out of the bag”, online or especially blended learning is a viable alternative to traditional classroom course delivery. Now we see how one might adapt a MOOC to fit into our traditional academic structure.

Today I read about Colorado State University’s new Online Campus is accepting a successfully completed Udacity Computer Science Course for credit. And edX is offering to validate a MOOC course with a proctored final exam via Pearson’s VUE Services. In fact hasn’t Pearson positioned themselves well with this growing dependency on online learning.

No, the MOOC debate continues. At a minimum I see all of us needing to offer free online courses as a marketing tool. The other article today “MOOCs’ Little Brother” by Steve Kolowich at Inside HigherED outlines an example of a small institution opening up some seats for free to expand their reach. I have been pushing this in my own institution for a while, asking our academic leaders to consider what would be a good seeker course to introduce our institution to prospective students. I may even offer my “Information Services” course I’ve taught for our School of Business as a MOOC or at least CUOOC, “Check Us Out Online Course”.

Addendum 9/7/12: A second major MOOC provider signs deal to hold exams at physical testing centers, potentially elevating the credibility of certificates.

Good article by Kevin Carey in the Chronicle, Into the Future with MOOC’s, More focus on how the MOOC explosion will accelerate the breakup of the college credit monopoly.

They are changing the face of education globally

I checked out Coursera’s course offerings and I have to admit they have a great lineup of quality courses. I signed up for “Introduction to Logic” from Stanford which begins soon so I could evaluate the process and quality of delivery, plus I am somewhat interested in logic. Then I signed up for “Introduction to Genome Science” from University of Pennsylvania for a fun refresher to my MS in Bioinformatics where my thesis was “Security of Our Personal Genome”. Purely continuing education but what a huge market that could be. You do realize this is wave 2 of open courseware. Coursera’s quote: We are changing the face of education globally, and we invite you to join us. Let’s assume Coursera is able to competently deliver these courses to any number of students. And let’s assume their student assessment techniques allow them to validate that learning took place. They have the prestigious of elite institutions of higher education. What does this mean?

What if a year from now millions of people are successfully completing courses through Coursera, Udacity and probably other copycat competitors. First Coursera is going to be worth billions and second a benchmark will be established that will define what is a quality online course. What will this benchmark mean? It will eliminate the argument that legitimate For-Profit online providers lack in quality. But more important it will validate the other argument that many of the online courses from traditional non-profit institutions are not worth the bandwidth you are wasting on them. So what does this mean for most of us (higher education)? Our online or blended offerings which we realize we must offer will have to be of similar quality to the free offerings from the Coursera’s of the world. We will have a benchmark. And then we just worry about holding on to our control of accreditation for validating what is a college degree and what is it worth. I am thankful that we will still have the value of the campus experience, but again, what will it be worth.

Update July 17, 2012 – More research universities join Coursera

Universities Moving from Elite to Unique

There must have been a press release by Coursera recently to fuel the many articles today about their new partnership with Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor to join their charter partner Stanford. This is all about elite universities embracing massively open online courses, or MOOCs. I think this signals a major move of the changing strategy of higher education. And I think this is significant enough that all universities need to take notice and evaluate how this might affect their course delivery strategy and the future of higher education.

MIT, Harvard and Stanford have shaken things up by driving these MOOCs and in some courses offering a certificate of completion for those who have successfully participated. This is not a credential that has any official meaning, however, why doesn’t it. It can now be argued that one could present their successful completion of a series of courses from these prestigious institutions as validation that learning took place and should now offer a certain level of qualification similar to a college degree. That is extremely scary to higher education, but why not to these universities that have pioneered this MOOC strategy?

It appears from the articles that faculty at these institutions are highly motivated to participate in offering these courses that are open to students outside of their traditional classes. Maybe they are inspired by how Stanford engineering professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng parleyed their efforts into the startup company Coursera funded by $16M of VC money. But why are these universities so supportive? Are they jumping into this just because they can? I don’t think so, I think they understand the transition that higher education is going through and they plan on be at the front end of it. They see that that an online component for a course brings the value of the community. And they have decided to perfect this online component to ensure their leadership in leveraging these communities. Not to grow their online revenue, although that may very well be an outcome, but instead this partnership with Coursera allows them to effectively bring the world to their classrooms. If the paying students who benefit from advantages of F2F also have an opportunity to collaborate with an unlimited number of students from the world, then they win. These institutions will move beyond just “Elite” they become “Unique”.

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