Implementing Online, Blended, and MOOC Courses in California!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has a featured article today on the implementation of online and blended courses at San Jose State University.  It initially avoids the word “MOOC” but cannot resist it.   The article describes the implementation:

“Here at San Jose State, for example, two pilot programs weave material from the online classes into the instructional mix and allow students to earn credit for them.

“We’re in Silicon Valley, we breathe that entrepreneurial air, so it makes sense that we are the first university to try this,” said Mohammad Qayoumi, the university’s president. “In academia, people are scared to fail, but we know that innovation always comes with the possibility of failure. And if it doesn’t work the first time, we’ll figure out what went wrong and do better.”

Dr. Qayoumi favors the blended model for upper-level courses, but fully online courses like Udacity’s for lower-level classes, which could be expanded to serve many more students at low cost. Traditional teaching will be disappearing in five to seven years, he predicts, as more professors come to realize that lectures are not the best route to student engagement, and cash-strapped universities continue to seek cheaper instruction.

“There may still be face-to-face classes, but they would not be in lecture halls,” he said. “And they will have not only course material developed by the instructor, but MOOC materials and labs, and content from public broadcasting or corporate sources. But just as faculty currently decide what textbook to use, they will still have the autonomy to choose what materials to include.”

In one pilot program, the university is working with Udacity  to see whether round-the-clock online mentors, hired and trained by the company, can help more students make their way through three fully online basic math courses.

The tiny for-credit pilot courses, open to both San Jose State students and local high school and community college students, began in January, so it is too early to draw any conclusions. But early signs are promising, so this summer, Udacity and San Jose State are expanding those classes to 1,000 students, and adding new courses in psychology and computer programming, with tuition of only $150 a course.

San Jose State has already achieved remarkable results with online materials from edX, a nonprofit online provider, in its circuits course, a longstanding hurdle for would-be engineers. Usually, two of every five students earn a grade below C and must retake the course or change career plans. So last spring, Ellen Junn, the provost, visited Anant Agarwal, an M.I.T. professor who taught a free online version of the circuits class, to ask whether San Jose State could become a living lab for his course, the first offering from edX, an online collaboration of Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.”

In terms of where it is all going:

“Ellen Junn, the provost at San Jose State said: “We want to bring all the hyperbole around MOOCs down to reality, and really see at a granular level that’s never before been available, how well they work for underserved students.”

Online courses are undeniably chipping at the traditional boundaries of higher education. Until now, most of the millions of students who register for them could not earn credit for their work. But that is changing, and not just at San Jose State. The three leading providers, Udacity, EdX and Coursera, are all offering proctored exams, and in some cases, certification for transfer credit through the American Council on Education.

Last month, in a controversial proposal, the president pro tem of the California Senate announced the introduction of legislation allowing students in the state’s public colleges and universities who cannot get a seat in oversubscribed lower-level classes to earn credit for faculty-approved online versions, including those from private vendors like edX and Udacity.

And on Wednesday, San Jose State announced that next fall, it will pay a licensing fee to offer three to five more blended edX courses, probably including Harvard’s “Ancient Greek Heroes” and Berkeley’s “Artificial Intelligence.” And over the summer, it will train 11 other California State campuses to use the blended M.I.T. circuits course. “

The movement to online and blended learning goes on.


Jason Collins: ‘I’m a 34-Year Old NBA Center. I’m Black. And I’m Gay.’

Dear Commons Community,

NBA center Jason Collins has become the first male athlete in a major professional sport to come out as gay.

The 34-year-old, a free agent who has played with the Washington Wizards and the Boston Celtics this past season, tells Sports Illustrated:

“I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, ‘I’m different.’ If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand.”

Initial reaction has been very supportive of Collins’ coming out.  NBA commissioner David Stern applauded Collins in a statement cited by ESPN, noting, “Jason has been a widely respected player and teammate throughout his career and we are proud he has assumed the leadership mantle on this very important issue.” Washington Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld felt similarly, calling Collins “a leader on and off the court and an outstanding teammate throughout his NBA career” in a statement.  GLAAD’s Aaron McQuade echoed those sentiments, calling Collins a “new hero” for young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) athletes in an email statement. “‘Courage’ and ‘inspiration’ are words that get thrown around a lot in sports, but Jason Collins has given both ideas a brand new context,” McQuade said. “We hope that his future team will welcome him, and that fans of the NBA and sports in general will applaud him.  Former President Bill Clinton added “Jason’s announcement today is an important moment for professional sports and in the history of the LGBT community.”

It is wonderful to see so much support for Collins.  We wish him  all the best!!



Funding for Pre-School Programs Reach Lowest Levels in a Decade!

Dear Commons Community,

Funding per student for state pre-school programs has reached its lowest point in a decade, according to The State of Preschool 2012, the annual yearbook released by Rutgers University’s National Institute for Early Education Research(NIEER). As reported in The Huffington Post:

“The 2011-2012 school year was the worst in a decade for progress in access to high-quality pre-K for America’s children,” the authors wrote. After a decade of increasing enrollment, that growth stalled, according to the report. Though the 2011-2012 school year marks the first time pre-K enrollment didn’t increase along with the rate of population change.

“The state of preschool was a state of emergency” in 2012, said Steve Barnett, NIEER’s director. Between the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school years, pre-K spending on state programs dropped by more than $548 million overall, and $442 per student (to $3,841) when adjusted for inflation, according to the report.

This means state pre-K funding per child has fallen more than $1,100 in real dollars from 2001-2002. “That’s the lowest since we’ve been tracking pre-K,” Barnett said. He called the cuts “severe” and “unprecedented.” This is the first time NIEER has seen average, per-student spending slip below $4,000…

Early childhood education has been tied to better life outcomes. In 2012, several police chiefs highlighted the need for more and better preschool as a tool for long-term crime reduction. University of Chicago professor James Heckman, a Nobel prize-winning economist, has demonstrated that every dollar spent on quality early childhood education yields a 7 to 10 percent return on investment as students graduate and begin contributing to the economy.”

The data show a situation so dire that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated: “Our youngest learners will not be college- and career-ready if we slash preschool dollars…”

This is indeed a dire situation.  Maybe Secretary Duncan should direct some of the funds for testing and national database development to pre-school programs.


Stunning NASA Video Shows Three Years of the Sun in Three Minutes!

Dear Commons Community,

A mesmerizing new video showcases the sun’s life over three years, stitched together from  snapshots taken by a NASA spacecraft in orbit around our nearest star.

The video is made up of photos captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) – two images a day for three years. The eye-catching images offer an unprecedented glimpse of the daily commotion waxing and waning on the surface of the sun.

SDO’s Atmospheric Imaging Assembly records an image of the sun every 12 seconds in 10 different wavelengths, according to NASA officials. The images seen in the video are in the extreme ultraviolet range.

The accompanying music is A Lady’s Errand of Love  – composed and performed by Martin Lass.





Tom Friedman and the Boston Marathon Bombers: Helping Young People Sift the Good and the Bad from the Internet!

Dear Commons Community,

Tom Friedman in his column today examines issues related to the mind-set of the alleged Boston Marathon bombers and the role of the Internet in shaping it.   He specifically cites officials who said, the evidence so far suggests they were ‘self-radicalized’ through Internet sites and U.S. actions in the Muslim world.  He uses the metaphor of a huge flowing river that has to be sifted:

“it is yet another reminder that the Internet is a digital river that carries incredible sources of wisdom and hate along the same current. It’s all there together. And our kids and citizens usually interact with this flow nakedly, with no supervision.

So more people are more directly exposed to more raw information and opinion every day from everywhere. As such, it is more important than ever that we build the internal software, the internal filters, into every citizen to sift out fact from fiction in this electronic torrent, which offers so much information that has never been touched by an editor, a censor or a libel lawyer. That’s why, when the Internet first emerged and you had to connect via a modem, I used to urge that modems sold in America come with a warning label from the surgeon general, like cigarettes. It would read: “Attention: Judgment not included.”

And that’s why the faster, more accessible and ultramodern the Internet becomes, the more all the old-fashioned stuff matters: good judgment, respect for others who are different and basic values of right and wrong. Those you can’t download. They have to be uploaded, the old-fashioned way, by parents around the dinner table, by caring but demanding teachers at school and by responsible spiritual leaders in a church, synagogue, temple or mosque. Somewhere, somehow, that did not happen, or stopped happening, with the brothers Tsarnaev.”




Nearly Half of New York City’s Population Were in the Ranks of the Poor or Near-Poor in 2011!

Dear Commons Community,

Early this week, there was a report that the rise in New York City’s poverty rate as a result of the recession had apparently eased, but not before pushing nearly half of the city’s population into the ranks of the poor or near-poor in 2011, according to an analysis by the Bloomberg administration. As reported in the New York Times:

“[in 2011], according to the city’s measure, about 46 percent of New Yorkers were making less than 150 percent of the poverty threshold, a benchmark used to describe people who are not officially poor but who still struggle to get by. That represents a rise of more than three percentage points since 2009, when the nation’s recession officially ended.

By the city’s definition, a family with two adults and two children could earn $46,416 a year and still fall within 150 percent of the city’ poverty level. Unlike the official but rigid federal poverty level, the city’s measure balances the added value of tax credits, food stamps, rent subsidies and other benefits against expenses like health and day care, housing and commuting that reflect New York’s higher living costs. The city says a two-adult, two-child family is poor if it earns less than $30,949 a year. The federal government sets the level at $22,811.

Though more New Yorkers were working in 2011 than the year before, larger shares of children and working adults were classified as poor in 2011, and the proportions of Asians, noncitizens and Queens residents — overlapping groups — each rose by more than four percentage points since 2008.

The city’s analysis warned that cutbacks in federal programs could threaten any recovery and place pressure on the next mayor to maintain or expand public assistance.

“The recent increase in the state minimum wage affects the working poor and near-poor, and paid sick days are important, but missing rungs in the ladder make it really hard to climb out of poverty,” said Nancy Rankin, vice president for policy research and advocacy at the Community Service Society, which lobbies on behalf of the poor.

“The next mayor is going to face a very difficult budget situation in which he or she will struggle to maintain basic services and have little room to expand welfare-related programs or services to needy New Yorkers, a fiscal situation that is getting very little attention in the current mayoral race,” said Steven Malanga, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a conservative group.”

In addition to poverty, the next mayor indeed will be facing a number of serious issues/problems related to budget, collective bargaining, and education to name a few.


New Study: Community College Students Carefully Consider What Courses to Take Online!

Dear Commons Community,

A small study of community college students entitled,  “Choosing Between Online and Face-to-Face Courses: Community College Student Voices,” focuses on why students opt to take some courses online but others face to face. “Because they serve a lot of students who work and have kids, community colleges feel they need to offer more and more online courses to meet their demands,” said Shanna Smith Jaggars, the report’s author and the center’s assistant director. “But we looked at, What is the extent of that demand?”

The research uses data collected in interviews with 46 students at two unidentified community colleges in the United States.

The respondents were most likely to take online courses on topics they felt more comfortable “teaching themselves.” When a student considered a subject area “difficult”—many cited mathematics and science courses as examples—they were more likely to want a traditional brick-and-mortar setting because, the report says, “they needed the immediate question-and-answer context of a face-to-face course.”

In-person formats were also more popular for courses in a student’s major or in discussion-based areas where interactions with instructors or other peers were seen as important.

Those of us who have taught online have observed this in the past.  As an instructor of online courses, I too prefer to teach certain courses online (i.e., education policy, contemporary issues in education) and other courses (i.e., quantitative research methods) face-to-face.


Barbara Bush: “We’ve had enough Bushes” in the White House!

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday was a glorious day for former President George W. Bush who was honored at the celebration surrounding the opening of his presidential library.  All the living presidents as well as other dignitaries cordially congratulated the younger Bush.  However, the quote of the day belonged to former first lady Barbara Bush who brushed aside talk of her other son, Jeb Bush, running for the White House.

Appearing in an interview on NBC’s “Today” show, Mrs. Bush was asked how she felt about Jeb, the former governor of Florida, seeking the presidency in 2016.

Mrs. Bush replied, quote, “We’ve had enough Bushes.”

She went on to say she thought there were many worthy candidates, telling anchor Matt Lauer, “There are people out there” who are qualified. Mrs. Bush had a reputation for bluntness when her husband George H.W. Bush was president.


University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to Add 500 New Full-Time Professors!

Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required) has an article announcing that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign plans to hire about 500 new full-time, tenure-track faculty members in the next five to seven years. The hiring spree follows years of budget shortfalls that limited hiring at the university, including one year in which hiring was frozen campuswide. University officials now want to restore the total number of full-time faculty members to a level closer to what the campus had in 2007, just before the recession hit.


The hires will be made in two ways, said Barbara J. Wilson, executive vice provost for faculty and academic affairs. Some new hires will fill traditional roles in academic departments. Others will be hired in clusters.


The “cluster hires,” Ms. Wilson said, will be sorted into the six areas that have been identified by the university’s “Visioning Future Excellence at Illinois” project, an effort begun by the chancellor to map out the university’s needs for the future. The review focused on two questions: “What are society’s most pressing issues?” and “What distinctive and signature role can Illinois play in addressing those issues in the next 20 to 50 years?”

We wish our colleagues at Urbana-Champaign well in their recruitment.


Now that Cooper Union is Charging Tuition: What Colleges are Still Free?

Dear Commons Community,

Now that the trustees voted to impose tuition at Cooper Union, where can one go for a free higher education.  The New York Times reviewed a number of alternatives:

The Webb Institute, in Glen Cove, accepts just 26 students a year. Students work two months a year in related industries, design a container ship and complete a thesis. Hard work, but the results are hard to beat: Robert C. Olsen Jr., the school’s outgoing president, says the institute can boast 100 percent job placement. Room and board and other fees come to a little over $12,000 a year.

Berea College, in Berea, Ky. was founded 158 years ago by an abolitionist with the goal of providing coeducational, interracial education, ambitious, given the era and the region. Today Berea has an endowment of over $1 billion. That works out to $625,000 per student, or more than 10 times the equivalent figure at New York University.

College of the Ozarks, in Point Lookout, Mo., and the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia also offer all students full tuition scholarships; Alice Lloyd College, in Pippa Passes, Ky., does so for those students from Central Appalachia.

Deep Springs College, on a ranch in an eastern California desert, selects just 13 men a year for its two-year program. The only required courses are composition and public speaking, along with a seminar that Brother Kenneth Cardwell, the school’s dean, refers to as “an introduction to how to talk reasonably to people your own age about matters of common concern.”

But for New Yorkers, the closest free-tuition college is also the newest: Macaulay, the honors college of the City University of New York. With a home base in Manhattan but with students spread across eight other CUNY colleges, Macaulay uses the city itself as both campus and curriculum. And on top of waiving tuition for its elite New York students, it throws in a laptop, up to $7,500 for research, travel or internships, a “cultural passport” to many New York institutions, and in many cases housing subsidies, too.

Good to see Macaulay get some much deserved good ink.