Dear Commons Community,
Udacity, Sebastian Thrun’s MOOC start-up company, is entering into an agreement with California’s San Jose State University for a series of remedial and introductory courses. The New York Times is reporting:
” [San Jose State University’s] deal with Udacity is the first time that professors at a university have collaborated with a provider of a MOOC — massive open online course — to create for-credit courses with students watching videos and taking interactive quizzes, and receiving support from online mentors.
Eventually, such courses could be offered to hundreds of thousands of students in the state.
California Gov. Jerry Brown, who has been pushing state universities to move more aggressively into online education, approached the company to come up with a technological solution for what has become a vexing challenge for the state.
Ellen N. Junn, provost and vice president for academic affairs at the university in San Jose, said the California State University System faces a crisis because more than 50 percent of entering students cannot meet basic requirements.
“They graduate from high school, but they cannot pass our elementary math and English placement tests,” she said.
The Udacity pilot program will include a remedial algebra course, a college-level algebra course and introductory statistics.
For the pilot project starting this month, however, the courses will be limited to 300 students — half from San Jose State University, and half from local community colleges and high schools — who will pay lower than usual tuition. The cost of each three-unit course will be $150, significantly less than regular San Jose State tuition. Sebastian Thrun, one of the founders of Udacity, would not disclose how much the company would be paid for its participation.
San Jose State will receive funds from the National Science Foundation to study the effectiveness of the new online classroom design.”
The situation in California is similar to what many large public university systems face vis-à-vis the remedial needs of its students. Several aspects of the news report bear mentioning. First, class sizes will be limited to 300 students. This is much less than the 100,000 plus enrollments that some MOOC courses have publicized. Second, faculty at San Jose State University will be involved with the development and implementation of the MOOC courses. Third, the article comments that Udacity will make every attempt to overcome the biggest failure of open online courses today — their 90 percent dropout rate.
“Despite high enrollments, about half the students who sign up for such courses, whether at Udacity or other providers, fall away at the beginning, never even looking at the first assignment. Many of them are browsers without real commitment to the classes. But others, Mr. Thrun said, just need more support.
“I am personally troubled by the 90 percent dropout rate,” Mr. Thrun said. “The students signing up are highly motivated — and MOOCs will only succeed if they make normally motivated students successful.”
In the San Jose pilot, Udacity will have staff mentors monitoring the courses and offering a range of student support services that could include regular check-ins with a mentor, or automated e-mails providing encouragement and help for students stuck on a problem.”
Good luck to Udacity and San Jose State. If successful, a MOOC model may evolve that would have applicability to many other public university systems including here at CUNY.