MOOCs & Online Higher Ed

Overview

MOOCs and Online Higher Ed

There’s an online-learning boom going on in higher education. The focus is on a relatively new model that promises to teach tens of thousands of students at a time for free, with a mix of short Web videos and automatically graded (or peer-graded) assignments. These new offerings are called massive open online courses, or MOOCs.

There’s an online-learning boom going on in higher education. The focus is on a relatively new model that promises to teach tens of thousands of students at a time for free, with a mix of short Web videos and automatically graded (or peer-graded) assignments. These new offerings are called massive open online courses, or MOOCs.

MOOCs evolved from earlier efforts to put university lecture notes online for free, public use. Back in 2001, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology started an ambitious effort to post lecture notes and other materials from all of its courses. No one called it a substitute for attending college, and one of the goals was to help teachers and professors elsewhere see models for designing their curricula. A handful of other universities also started so-called OpenCourseWare efforts, but it didn’t spark a revolution.

But free courseware efforts were a kind of long fuse, it turns out, for a blast that would come years later. YouTube emerged in 2005, making it free to distribute video to the masses. And broadband Internet access gradually became more widespread. Some universities began filming their lectures and posting some of them to YouTube channels, but the videos often felt tedious and hard to watch — presenting a view from the back row of learning.

It took someone outside of higher education—a former hedge-fund analyst named Salman Khan—to popularize a more Web-friendly way to teach online. In 2006 he started Khan Academy, full of short video clips (about 11 minutes each) on more-discrete topics than a typical college lecture. There are no classrooms or talking heads shown in these videos. Instead, Mr. Khan’s voice narrates as he draws and writes notes on a digital whiteboard.

Meanwhile, a few other professors were quietly experimenting with opening up their university courses to students online, essentially letting people audit for free from a distance. The freeloaders could participate in online discussions, and some even turned in homework.

A Stanford University computer-science professor named Sebastian Thrun was inspired by Khan Academy to create a free version of a course he was co-teaching about artificial intelligence. The idea got plenty of press coverage, and more than 160,000 students signed up — a number so large it got the attention of venture-capitalists in Silicon Valley. The boom was on.

Thrun started Udacity to offer MOOCs by professors at prestigious universities around the world. And two other Stanford professors, from the same department as Thrun, started Coursera, which began teaming up with highly selective colleges and universities to offer MOOCs. By the spring of 2013, Coursera had signed up 62 university partners and registered more than 3 million students from across the globe. Udacity, which has more than 160,000 students, recently partnered with San Jose State University for a pilot program of credit-bearing courses.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology jumped in as well. Along with Harvard University, it founded a nonprofit called edX to provide a platform to offer MOOCs. The two universities committed $60 million to start the project, and a handful of other universities have since joined in.

Most MOOCs offer their content for free but charge a small fee for a certificate to prove successful completion. Even the certificates carry no college credit, however.

But that might be changing. In February 2013, the American Council on Education, a Washington-based membership group of higher education institutions, recommended five Coursera courses for credit, as part of a program meant to help colleges decide whether to accept courses from unaccredited providers. San Jose State University is one of a few institutions that have experimented with offering credit to students who pass MOOCs, provided they pay the college a $150 fee.

Many reformers see MOOCs as a way to address a range of pressing problems in higher education. Some hope to bring down the cost of traditional classroom delivery by using “flipped classrooms,” in which students are assigned free lecture videos for homework, while class time is used to discuss the video material and do interactive exercises. Others hope that MOOCs will lead to low-cost alternatives to traditional campuses.

MOOCs face major challenges, however. Completion rates are often tiny—typically around 10 percent—
in part because many people sign up for the free courses but then never actually tune in. And cheating is a concern. MOOC providers have set up methods to proctor tests for those who want a verified certificate of completion.

These new online courses apparently played a role in the controversial ouster—and then reinstatement—of the University of Virginia’s president, Teresa Sullivan. In the days and weeks before her dismissal in 2012, members of the university’s board of visitors traded emails suggesting that they thought Sullivan was moving too slowly to explore MOOCs.

Meanwhile, plenty of colleges offer what is now seen as the old-fashioned version of online education. Such courses more closely mimic the classroom experience: They are led by individual professors who teach 20 to 30 students at a time and grade their homework by hand. For-profit colleges such as the University of Phoenix were early to this model, as were some state institutions, such as UMass Online, founded some 10 years ago. Those online courses are often not much cheaper than traditional courses, for students or the institutions that deliver them.

To help colleges move faster to offer traditional online degree programs, a few companies have emerged in recent years to pay for and help manage the programs’ creation, in exchange for a cut of future tuition revenue. Among those companies are the publishing and technology conglomerate Pearson and 2U, an education technology company formerly called 2tor. In general, the lines separating publisher, professor, university, and software company appear to be blurring as more courses move online.

Report

Competency-Based Education in College Settings

Competency-based education (CBE) has ignited a great deal of public interest in recent years because it allows students to learn and progress at a flexible pace and holds promise for filling workforce skills gaps. What makes it different? First and foremost, it measures learning rather than class time. Students move through material independently, usually in preparation for specific jobs, progressing when they demonstrate mastery of required knowledge and skills (called competencies).

Seminar

Doing More With Higher Ed Data: From Policy to Newsrooms
Philadelphia • February 2–3, 2017

With colleges and universities under increased pressure to ensure that more students earn degrees without amassing mountains of debt, journalists are at the forefront in examining how these institutions  measure up. But there’s one major obstacle that both colleges and reporters share when it comes to making sense of how well these schools are meeting their goals: insufficient data.

Member Stories

June 9-June 16

“When neighborhoods gentrify, schools often don’t follow—at least not nearly as quickly,” writes Jessica Huseman for Slate. “It’s a phenomenon playing out across America as middle-class white families move into urban neighborhoods that real estate agents might have once called ‘undesirable.’”

“We are loading up a lot of middle- and lower-income parents, who may have only a decade or so of work life left, with large amounts of debt,” says a scholar to Emmeline Zhao in her deep look at the debt loads of Parent PLUS loans that ran in RealClearPolitics.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

Obama Official: To Lower Cost of College, States Must Spend More

U.S. Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell spoke at EWA's 69th annual National Seminar in Boston. Source: U.S. Department of Education

“The most expensive degree is the one you don’t get.” That’s Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell quoting former U.S. Ed Secretary Arne Duncan at the Education Writers Association’s National Seminar on Monday. Mitchell’s talk focused on how to prevent such a costly slip.

Seminar

Higher Ed 2016
September 16–17 • Tempe, Arizona

What new techniques and practices should higher education embrace to ensure that more students graduate? Join the Education Writers Association September 16–17 at Arizona State University to explore cutting-edge innovations that aim to address financial, academic, and social barriers. More on the seminar theme.

This annual seminar is one of the largest gatherings of journalists covering postsecondary education. Network with others covering this beat and step up your coverage for the upcoming academic year.

Arizona State University
Tempe, Arizona
Webinar

Seven Challenges First-Generation College Students Face & How to Write About Them

(Bigstock/michaeljung)

While many first-generation students are excited and ambitious when they step on campus — eager to beat the odds and become the first in their families to earn a college degree — others struggle with guilt, fear and loneliness, sometimes even struggling to remember why they decided to attend college in the first place. And they grapple with these feelings while they also have to figure out how to apply for financial aid, register for classes, and manage the other necessities of undergraduate life knowing they can’t turn to their families for guidance based on experience.

Seminar

69th EWA National Seminar

The Education Writers Association, the national professional organization for journalists who cover education, is thrilled to announce that its annual conference will take place from Sunday, May 1, through Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in the historic city of Boston.

Co-hosted by Boston University’s College of Communication and School of Education, EWA’s 69th National Seminar will examine a wide array of timely topics in education — from early childhood through career — while expanding and sharpening participants’ skills in reporting and storytelling.

Boston, Massachusetts
Multimedia

Can Innovation Improve Higher Education?
2015 EWA National Seminar

Can Innovation Improve Higher Education?

Higher education faces a major challenge: How to educate more students better as resources and funding at most colleges mostly stay flat. This discussion will examine whether new technology and new approaches such as competency-based education or MOOCs can make college more affordable and effective.

  • Paul Fain, Inside Higher Ed (Moderator)
  • Goldie Blumenstyk, The Chronicle of Higher Education
  • Kevin Carey, New America
  • Ryan Craig, University Ventures
Blog: The Educated Reporter

Can Innovation Improve Higher Education?

Biology students participate in person and virtually in a Massive Open Online Class (MOOC) offered by the MIT's edX initiative. (Flickr/brewbooks)

The challenges facing higher education today are widely known, but no one really knows the future as technology reshapes how college courses are delivered, how effectively they teach, and who takes them at what cost.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

The 2015 Education Beat: Common Core, Testing, School Choice

Students at New York University work on a computer programming project. More interactive learning is expected to be a hot topic in the coming year on both the K-12 and higher education beats. (Flickr/Matylda Czarnecka)

There’s a busy year ahead on the schools beat – I talked to reporters, policy analysts and educators to put together a cheat sheet to a few of the stories you can expect to be on the front burner in the coming months: 

Revamping No Child Left Behind

Blog: The Educated Reporter

How to Help the 21st Century College Student

Source: Flickr/College of DuPage Newsroom

When Mark Milliron met with an advertising team to promote a new type of college in Texas, he wasn’t expecting fireworks. Still, the pitch floored him.

“The Texas Two-Step: Sign Up. Succeed.”

It was the sentence that would appear on billboards and in radio advertisements, enticing thousands of working adults to enroll in an online college – Western Governors University Texas. And it totally missed the point.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

A Chance to Earn College Credit for What You Already Know

Lipscomb University's Competency Assessment and Development Center in Nashville, Tenn. 
Photo credit: Melissa Bailey

A car salesman, a secretary and a military vet filed into a conference room for a new kind of high-stakes test – one that could earn them up to 30 college credits in a single day.

Report

Interactive Online Learning on Campus
Testing MOOCs and Other Platforms in Hybrid Formats in the University System of Maryland

Since November 2012, Ithaka S+R has been working with the University System of Maryland (USM) to test a variety of online learning technologies, assess student learning outcomes, and document lessons learned from these implementations. The USM is serving as a test bed for employing MOOCs from Coursera, the Open Learning Initiative (OLI) from Carnegie Mellon, and Pearson in a variety of subject areas on different campuses.  …

Looking specifically at how faculty in the USM incorporated MOOCs and OLI into their courses, our report points to several positive outcomes:

Blog: The Educated Reporter

How Are Competency-Based Education and Student-Centered Learning Changing Schools?

Elena Silva of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Photo credit: Melissa Bailey

More students are earning high school diplomas – but the diplomas don’t mean those students are ready to succeed in college.

Nicholas Donohue, president and CEO of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, made that observation as he began to argue for a dramatic rethinking of the way schools measure learning, promote students and award diplomas. He made the argument during a “Deep Dive on Competency-Based Education and Student-Centered Learning” at EWA’s National Seminar in Nashville in May.

Seminar

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Covering the College Student Experience
2014 Higher Ed Seminar

For many college students — whether fresh out of high school or adults returning to school — their most serious obstacles to a degree won’t be homework or tests, but rather the challenges of navigating student life. Colleges are now being forced to face the longstanding problems that have often led to students’ flailing and failing on their own. 

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Top 10 Higher Education Stories You Should Be Covering

Scott Jaschik addresses reporters at EWA's 67th National Seminar at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

For higher education reporters, Inside Higher Ed editor Scott Jaschik’s annual top-10 list of story ideas is a highlight of EWA’s National Seminar. This year at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Jaschik kicked off his roundup with  an issue that has affected many institutions around the country: sexual assault. The key to covering this story, he said, is not to imply that this is a new problem. Increased attention from the White House has challenged the ways that many colleges have addressed these incidents.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Live From Nashville: EWA’s 67th National Seminar

I’ve often made the case that there’s no reporting beat where the reporters are more collegial – or more committed to their work – than education. EWA’s 67th National Seminar, hosted by Vanderbilt University, helped to prove that point.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

As Education Debate Heats Up, Nicholas Lemann Holds the Line

Nicholas Lemann, of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and The New Yorker, speaks at the 67th National Seminar on May 18, 2014.

“I Walk the Line.” Nashville’s late, great Johnny Cash first sang that classic country anthem in 1956. This week in Tennessee’s Music City, journalists were urged to hold the line—as “the referee and truth teller in this fight we are having in education.”

The exhortation came from Nicholas Lemann, professor and dean emeritus at Columbia Journalism School, speaking at a May 18 banquet to honor winners of the 2013 National Awards for Education Reporting.

Organization

Council for Adult & Experiential Learning

The nonprofit Council for Adult & Experiential Learning, or CAEL as it is commonly called, advocates for initiatives that enable adults to earn postsecondary credentials more efficiently. They “support ways to link learning from [adults'] work and life experiences to their educational goals—so they earn their degrees and credentials faster.” CAEL’s expertise includes efforts such as prior learning assessment and competency-based education.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Making Sense of MOOCs

With the year winding down, higher education journalists and pundits are wondering whether 2013 will be remembered as a tipping point for MOOCs – massive open online courses.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

The Higher Ed Beat: Ten Story Ideas on Technology and Innovation

It’s been a busy year for higher education reporters, and the New Year promises plenty of challenging — and important — stories to cover. I thought it would be a good time to revisit one of our most popular sessions from EWA’s National Seminar, held at Stanford University. Today’s guest blogger is Delece Smith-Barrow of U.S.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Higher Ed Beat: What Are the Top 10 Stories on College Campuses?

Higher Ed Beat: What Are the Top 10 Stories on College Campuses?

I’ll admit it – I look forward every fall when Scott Jaschik shares his “cheat sheet”of story ideas at EWA’s annual Higher Education Seminar.This year we met at Northeastern University, and Scott didn’t disappoint.We asked journalists who attended the seminar to contribute posts, and today’s guest blogger is Michael Vasquez of the Miami Herald.For more on higher education issues, including community colleges,

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Moving Beyond MOOCs

EWA held its annual Higher Education Seminar recently at Boston’s Northeastern University. We invited some of the education journalists in attendance to contribute posts from the sessions. Today’s guest blogger is Carl Straumsheim of Inside Higher Ed.

Is it possible that two education company executives, a researcher and a reporter could spend an hour discussing technology in higher education without mentioning massive open online courses?

Multimedia

Making the Most of Online Education

Making the Most of Online Education

Recorded at EWA’s 2013 Higher Ed seminar, “Guess Who’s Coming to Campus: What Demographic Changes Mean for Colleges and Reporters.”

Research has found that the types of students most likely to opt for online courses for reasons of access, including low-income, black and Latino students, are the same students who are least likely to succeed in those courses. What practices and programs are succeeding at beating this trend?

EWA Radio

Making the Most of Online Education

Research has found that the types of students most likely to opt for online courses for reasons of access, including low-income, black and Latino students, are the same students who are least likely to succeed in those courses. What practices and programs are succeeding at beating this trend? Speakers: Thomas Bailey, Director, Community College Research Center; Jay Bhatt, President and CEO, BlackBoard Inc; Bror Saxberg, Chief Learning Officer, Kaplan Inc.; Steve Kolowich, Staff Reporter, The Chronicle of Higher Education (moderator) Recorded Saturday, Sept.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

What Online Education Means for College Classrooms

What Online Education Means for College Classrooms

Early registration is now open for EWA’s 2013 Higher Education Seminar, to be held Sept.28-29 at Northeastern University in Boston.This is a journalists-only  event, and you can register and apply for a scholarship here.In the meantime, EWA’s 66th National Seminar was recently held at Stanford University, and we asked some of the education reporters attending to contribute blog posts from the sessions.Today’s guest blogger is Mary Beth Marklein of USA Today.&

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Thomas Friedman on Competition, Common Core, and the Surge of MOOCs

EWA’s 66th National Seminar, held at Stanford University, took place in May. We asked some of the journalists attending to contribute posts from the sessions. The majority of the content will soon be available at EdMedia Commons. Patrick O’Donnell of the Cleveland Plain Dealer is today’s guest blogger.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman doesn’t write about education, as such. He writes about power and about changes on a global level.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Will Online Khan Academy ‘Educate the World’?

EWA’s 66th National Seminar, held at Stanford University, took place earlier this month. We asked some of the journalists attending to contribute posts from the sessions. The majority of the content will soon be available at EdMedia Commons. Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing a few of the posts, including the ones from our keynote sessions. Justin Pope, higher education reporter for the Associated Press, is today’s guest blogger.

Multimedia

A Conversation with Sal Khan, Part 3

A Conversation with Sal Khan, Part 3

As the Q&A concludes, Khan fields questions on adapting lessons for an international audience, the MOOC model, and solving the problem of credentialing in online ed.

Multimedia

A Conversation with Sal Khan, Part 2

A Conversation with Sal Khan, Part 2

During the Q&A, Khan discusses the history of distance learning, the structure and composition of his videos, and how Khan Academy is beginning to approach assessments.

Multimedia

Innovation Showcase: Blended Learning Boom

Innovation Showcase: Blended Learning Boom

These interactive sessions feature reporters, analysts and educators spotlighting efforts under way to harness the power of innovation to spark new approaches to K-12 and higher education. In this session, Marcie Bober-Michel, San Diego State University, interviewed by Kyla Calvert, KPBS, about a boom in courses that blend online and face-to-face learning. Recorded May 4, 2013 at EWA’s 66th National Seminar at Stanford University.

Multimedia

What to Make of MOOCs

What to Make of MOOCs

In less than two years, massive open online courses (MOOCs) have altered discussions about higher education reform and access. Following the announcement that a handful of the courses merit traditional college credit, MOOCs may be poised to alter students’ pathways to a diploma. Or they might be the latest example of Internet overreach. A discussion of the possibilities.

Speakers: Scott Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed; Daphne Koller, Coursera; Bob Samuels, University Council-AFT; Cathy Sandeen, American Council on Education; Gabi Zolla, Council for Adult and Experiential Learning

Multimedia

Top 10 Stories on Innovation in Higher Education

Top 10 Stories on Innovation in Higher Education

What are the higher education stories on innovation that reporters should be following this year? Scott Jaschik, editor and co-founder of Inside Higher Ed, offers his insights on what stories are worth covering in the coming months.

Multimedia

What Online Education Means for College Classrooms

What Online Education Means for College Classrooms

The rise of online education arguably represents the first real change in centuries to how courses are taught in postsecondary education, both on and off campus. This discussion examines the potential online teaching technologies have to change how students learn—both in lecture halls and cyberspace—and how universities function.

Speakers: Claudia Dreifus, The New York Times; Sir Michael Barber, Pearson; John Mitchell, Stanford University; Mark Smith, National Education Association

Recorded May 2, 2013 at EWA’s 66th National Seminar at Stanford University.

Multimedia

A Conversation with Thomas Friedman, Part 4: Information Overload, College Costs and Education as a Civil Right

A Conversation with Thomas Friedman, Part 4: Information Overload, College Costs and Education as a Civil Right

From the Education Writers Association 2013 National Seminar, a discussion between Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tom Friedman (New York Times) and Stephanie Banchero (Wall Street Journal). Filmed at Stanford University.

During the Q & A portion of his talk, Friedman fields questions on the pitfalls of online education, being overwhelmed by information, and how technology might offset rising tuition costs.

Multimedia

A Conversation with Thomas Friedman, Part 3: Modern Career Opportunities, Fear of Technology and Reasons to Be Optimistic

A Conversation with Thomas Friedman, Part 3: Modern Career Opportunities, Fear of Technology and Reasons to Be Optimistic

From the Education Writers Association 2013 National Seminar, a discussion between Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tom Friedman (New York Times) and Stephanie Banchero (Wall Street Journal). Filmed at Stanford University.

In part 3, Friedman discusses how young people are faring in the job market and how U.S. schools compare with their international counterparts.

Multimedia

A Conversation with Thomas Friedman, Part 2: Missing the Point on MOOCs, Cost vs. Value in Higher Ed and the ‘401(k) World’

A Conversation with Thomas Friedman, Part 2: Missing the Point on MOOCs, Cost vs. Value in Higher Ed and the ‘401(k) World’

From the Education Writers Association 2013 National Seminar, a discussion between Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tom Friedman (New York Times) and Stephanie Banchero (Wall Street Journal). Filmed at Stanford University.

In part 2, Friedman talks about the boom in Massive Open Online Courses, the role of teachers in increasingly tech-focused classrooms, and the importance of motivation in a world of defined contributions.

EWA Radio

Turning the Page on Textbooks: More Affordable Options

Plummeting prices for e-readers and tablet computers mean big changes for the textbook industry, as more students and professors clamor for digital versions of traditional paper editions. What does this shift in the publishing world mean for college costs, and how are universities getting e-textbooks into the hands of students? Panelists: Jeff Young, The Chronicle of Higher Education (moderator); Nicole Allen, U.S. PIRG; Bruce Hildebrand, Association of American Publishers; Mickey Levitan, Courseload.

Multimedia

Can Technology Fix Higher Education?

Can Technology Fix Higher Education?

From EWA’s Nov 4-5 Higher Education Seminar at UCLA: As more students crowd classrooms, many colleges and professors are looking for new ways to use technology to make the learning experience more effective. From large-scale course redesigns to using Twitter to pass “notes” in class, what’s the impact when college courses get plugged in?

Key Coverage

State Systems Go MOOC

Universities from New Mexico to New York will join Coursera in a sprawling expansion of the Silicon Valley startup’s efforts to take online education to the masses.

Report

The No Significant Difference Phenomenon

This Web site aggregates studies measuring whether online college courses are as effective as traditional ones. Despite the site’s name, the database now includes research with a range of findings, but most show that students completing online courses learn as least as much as those in a classroom.

Organization

The Sloan Consortium

Supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, The Sloan Consortium promotes moving online education into the mainstream. It runs three major technology conferences each year and produces reports.

Organization

Educause

Educause is one of the largest organizations devoted to supporting technology professionals in higher education. Its Center for Applied Research compiles data and issues reports on trends in technology use at colleges.

Organization

League for Innovation in Community Colleges

The League for Innovation in Community Colleges is “specifically committed to improving community colleges through innovation, experimentation, and institutional transformation.” Founded in 1968, the League played a key role in helping to increase the number of community colleges nationally during the 1970s and currently is working to help community colleges improve their graduation rates.

Report

NMC Horizon Report: Higher Education Edition

Each year this report identifies six key trends in technology in higher education and presents an analysis of their potential impacts. The 2013 edition predicts that MOOCs and tablet computing will become widespread at colleges within the next year.

Report

Campus Computing Project

This project conducts one of the largest annual surveys of higher-ed technology leaders in the United States. Among the findings in the 2012 survey was a strong skepticism of whether a new model of online education known as MOOCs, or “massive open online courses,” could offer a new model for bringing in revenue.

Key Coverage

What You Need to Know About MOOC’s

Colleges and professors have rushed to try a new form of online teaching known as MOOC’s—short for “massive open online courses.” The courses raise questions about the future of teaching, the value of a degree, and the effect technology will have on how colleges operate.

Key Coverage

Who Owns a MOOC?

At U. of California Santa Cruz, faculty leaders argue that Coursera’s deals with instructors endanger hard-won intellectual property rights.

Key Coverage

The New Intelligence

Knewton says its data-rich system can read students’ minds. The company has landed Arizona State and Pearson as partners—will the rest of higher education follow?

Report

Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses

Proponents of online education frequently cite this book-length report, which offers a scathing indictment of the quality of teaching at traditional colleges. The authors used a standardized test called the Collegiate Learning Assessment to compare what students knew as they entered college to their performance at the end of their second year of college, and found that 45 percent showed no significant improvement in a range of skills.