Unlocking the Gates – Book on Online Courseware Development!

Dear Commons Community,

Earlier this month I posted on this blog  a piece entitled, Online Courses:  Where’s the Teacher commenting on a NY Times article written by a business professor from San Diego State University.  Reference in the article was made to a book, Unlocking the Gates:  How and Why Leading Universities Are Opening Up Access to Their Courses (Princeton University Press) by Taylor Walsh.  This book has been making the rounds in the higher education press mainly because of its review of several high-profile courseware development initiatives such as those at M.I.T. and Carnegie Mellon.  Ms. Walsh works for Ithaka S+R, a not-for-profit service that supports innovation in the academic community.   The introduction is written by William Bowen (Princeton, Andrew Mellon Foundation).  I just finished reading this book and here is my quick review.

Ms. Walsh  provides case studies on seven high profile online courseware development initiatives by major universities:

Fathom  (Columbia University et al)

Alliance for Life Long Learning/AllLearn (Oxford, Princeton et al)

M.I.T.’s Open CourseWare

Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative

Open Yale Courses


India’s National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning

The case studies are interesting and based on data gathered from interviews and primary and secondary documents.   Most of these initiatives were not developed as fully online courses but more as materials that could be used/integrated into traditional courses.  Fathom, AllLearn and Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative surely could be self-contained courses.  I found the overall case studies informative and helpful in placing these initiatives in the context of the historical development of online learning in higher education.  Students and scholars will find that the material fills some of the gaps in this area.  Perhaps the most provocative comments/aspects of this book are in its conclusions/epilogue.  Here is a sample:

“Quoting Daniel Greenstein, U. of California’s vice provost:  ‘Will online education continue to be viewed as suspect – the provenance of bottom-feeding for-profits’ or will highly selective institutions make online education more central to their academic programs.  p. 257

“For the highly selective tier of higher education, threats to livelihoods because of technologically mediated unbundling are far in the future (if present at all).  p. 259

“The selective universities that have been the trailblazers in developing these courseware materials for the general public have  been among the most reluctant to use them to reform their own pedagogical approaches”  p. 260


Remember Abraham Lincoln This Weekend!

Dear Commons Community,

This weekend take a few moments to remember Abraham Lincoln who led our country through its darkest hours and gave his life for it.  Also think a bit about Gabrielle Giffords as she continues her recovery from an assassin’s bullet.


The Future of Online Learning: To Be or Not to Be?

Dear Commons Community,

Our colleague, Brian Foote, recently commented that there has been a good deal of press especially in the NY Times regarding the future/potential/etc. of online learning.   The current issue of the Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks has several articles discussing this particular topic.   You have to be a member of the Sloan Consortium to access current editions.   Below Janet Moore, one of the editors of JALN, sent out a summary of this edition.  I have attached a copy of the article my colleagues, Jeff Seaman and  Elaine Allen, and I contributed entitled, Educational Transformation through Online Learning: To Be or Not to Be that was published in this edition.


“Dear Colleagues,

The latest Sloan Survey of Online Learning revealed nearly 30 percent of all college and university students now take at least one course online. As adoption of online learning continues to increase, issues related to scale, such as quality, access and acceptance, become paramount. In the latest issue of the Sloan Consortium’s (Sloan-C) scholarly periodical, Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks (JALN), experts describe the practice and potential of online education.

JALN Volume 14, Issue 4, begins with an article titled, “Why Online Education Will Attain Full Scale,” by John Sener, who reasons online education “will soon become a routine, commonplace, and integral part of the educational experience.”

In “Educational Transformation through Online Learning: To Be or Not to Be,” Anthony Picciano, Jeff Seaman and Elaine Allen use six years of data on K-20 online learning to explore transformation as it relates to the growth of online learning, institutional mission, student access, faculty acceptance, instructional quality, and student satisfaction. As online education scales, “issues regarding the quality of online learning and the level of effort required to develop and teach online courses continue to be of concern at all levels of education.”

Also in this issue, Kaye Shelton takes on quality assurance, presenting a “Quality Scorecard for the Administration of Online Education Programs,” drawn from the expertise of senior administrators. The scorecard rubric is an industry standard for evaluating, planning and reporting on the quality of online educational programs.

Among other highlights in this issue, Helga Dorner and Andrea Kárpáti show how “Mentoring for Innovation” enables novice teachers to benefit from expert know-how; Lana C. Jackson, Stephanie J. Jones, and Roy C. Rodriguez identify “Faculty Actions that Result in Student Satisfaction in Online Courses”; and in “Automating Expertise in Collaborative Learning Environments,” teams from Pearson Knowledge Technologies, theU.S. Air Force, European Office of Aerospace Research and Development, and theU.S. Army Research Institute used Latent Semantic Analysis, to significantly improve the effectiveness of collaboration.
JALN access is free to members and non members can purchase individual pdfs or print copies.

Janet C. Moore, Ph.D.

Chief Knowledge Officer


Bless Me Father for I have Sinned on my iTunes!

Dear Commons Community,

Karen Swan, a colleague of mine at the University of Illinois, Springfield sent along the following info on a new “Confession” app.  The ad for the app appears as follows:

“Are you a sinner? Don’t worry, there’s an app for that. The Roman Catholic Church has approved a recent iTunes addition called Confession, a $1.99 app that bills itself as “the perfect aid for every penitent.” The app lets you pick a commandment and tick off all your sins, keeping a running tally to bring into the confessional with you — a sort of anti-tasklist, if you will. Can’t find your particular misstep? No problem! You’re able to add your own, custom dastardly deeds, filling in those gaps the app’s authors didn’t think anyone would fill. Now all it needs is a random sin selector: shake the phone to instantly get a wicked suggestion. That certainly could make boring Thursday nights at the dormitory a little more exciting.”

Can I get three Our Fathers, three Hail Marys and an AMEN!


High School Graduates in New York Not Able to Do College-Level Work!

Dear Commons Community,

New York State education officials released a new set of graduation statistics on Monday that show less than half of students in the state are leaving high school prepared for college and well-paying careers.    In New York City, the results show that only 23 percent of students in New York City graduated ready for college or careers in 2009, not counting special-education students. That is well under half the current graduation rate of 64 percent, a number often promoted by Mayor Michael Bloomberg as evidence that his education policies are working.   This should not be surprising given that the fact that the  NYS  Education Department as well as the NYC Department of Education have known that many of the standardized tests used to evaluate competencies and achievement were “dumbed down” for many years (see my blog posting The Dishonesty of Standardized Testing in New York City Redux!).  The New York Times has an article reviewing much of this situation but the bottom line is that children and their parents have been done a huge disservice by our education leaders in promoting the illusion that schools have improved in New York City over the past ten or so years.  


Online Courses – Where’s the Teacher?

Dear Commons Community,

“WHEN colleges and universities finally decide to make full use of the Internet, most professors will lose their jobs”.  This is the opening sentence in an article in the NY Times today reviewing the state of online learning in higher education.  The author, Randall Stross, a professor of business at San Jose State University, makes this statement  to attract the reader’s attention.  However, he also makes a number of interesting comments regarding the evolving blended/hybrid learning environment,  the Open Learning Initiative at Carnegie Mellon University,   and the OpenCourseWare Program at M.I.T.   The essence of his article is whether a well-designed fully online course can replace the teacher in the classroom and whether it should.   Citing the courses designed as part of the Carnegie Mellon Initiative, each of which cost $500,000 to $1 million to design, the possibility is there especially if they are replacing large lecture size classes where faculty student interaction is at a minimum.  To balance his argument, he quotes Wendy Brown, the Heller professor of political science at Berkeley:

“What is sacrificed when classrooms disappear, the place where good teachers do not merely ‘deliver content’ to students but wake them up, throw them on their feet and pull the chair away? Where ideas can become intoxicating, where an instructor’s ardor for a subject or a dimension of the world can be contagious? Where scientific, literary, ethical or political passions are ignited?”

His concluding line is as good as his opener:

“If administrators at many state universities ever secure the funds to make capital investments again, they may be ready to look anew at the shelf where those wholly self-contained courses now sit. My job is safe, I think. Carnegie Mellon hasn’t yet developed software for the courses I teach — thank goodness.”


H.S. Biology Teachers Cautious about Teaching Creationism!!

Dear Commons Community,

Referencing an article that appeared in the January 28, 2011 edition of the journal Science, Dennis Robbins (Hunter College) passed on the findings of a recent study of  high school biology teachers that found  that 13 percent of them advocated teaching creationism  in their course.  Of greater concern, 60 percent of them are cautious about teaching evolution.  You can access the actual Science article  here, but unfortunately it is behind a pay wall.  The abstract of the article is below:

“Just over 5 years ago, the scientific community turned its attention to a courtroom in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Eleven parents sued their Dover, Pennsylvania, school board to overturn a policy explicitly legitimizing intelligent design creationism. The case, Kitzmiller v. Dover, followed a familiar script: Local citizens wanted their religious values validated by the science curriculum; prominent academics testified to the scientific consensus on evolution; and creationists lost decisively. Intelligent design was not science, held the court, but rather an effort to advance a religious view via public schools, a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause Many scientists cheered the decision, agreeing with the court that the school board displayed “breathtaking inanity”. We suggest that the cheering was premature and the victory incomplete.”


National Education Policy Center’s Bunkum Awards

Dear Commons Community,

As many of us know, education research particularly at the K-12 level has become politicized by the various government agencies, private foundations and by some of our colleagues in academia.  The mission of the National Education Policy Center(NEPC) is to produce and disseminate high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Part of its activities is to “debunk” what it considers poor research especially that which is done to foster political positions.

Yesterday the Center announced its annual Bunkum Awards.    The first-place winner or The Good Enough for Government Work Award, went to the Obama administration for its research summaries in support of A Blueprint for Reform. “Our esteemed panel of judges solemnly considered whether the federal government was even eligible for such an award. With so many resources at its disposal, the government seems to have an unfair advantage. But the Blueprint research summaries stood out in two ways that we felt needed recognition. First, they almost religiously avoided acknowledging or using the large body of high-quality research that the federal government itself had commissioned and published over the years. Second, they first raised our expectations with repeated assurances that recommended policies would be solidly grounded in research – only to then dash those hopes in research summary after research summary.”

Summaries of the all eight of the NEPC’s awards for 2010 can be found at:  http://nepc.colorado.edu/think-tank/bunkum-awards/2010Education