E-college expands

E-learning is booming at the college level, but most professors don’t like it, concludes the Sloan Survey of Online Learning, “Making the Grade.” The number of college students taking an online course doubled from 2002 to 2005, the study notes. Some 62 percent of chief academic officers say that the learning outcomes in online education are now “as good as or superior to face-to-face instruction.” But faculty aren’t jumping on the bandwagon, reports Inside Higher Ed:

What stands out is the number of faculty who still don’t see e-learning as a valuable tool. Only about one in four academic leaders said that their faculty members “accept the value and legitimacy of online education,” the survey shows. That number has remained steady throughout the four surveys.

I think higher education for working adults — for example, teacher training for people working as teaching aides or novice teachers — will go mostly or totally online in the next 10 years. It just makes sense. For 18- to 22-year-olds, e-learning will be a supplement. But nobody’s going to show up in person to a large lecture class when they can download the lecture to their computer or iPod.

Read the Inside Higher Ed comments by online students and instructors.

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Comments

  1. Wayne Martin says:

    The 4-Year graduation rate for the California State University system is as follows (2004 data):

    California Polytechnic State University:16.20%
    California State Polytechnic University:9.40%
    CSU-Bakersfield :11.50%
    CSU-Chico:16.20%
    CSU-Dominguez Hills:4.50%
    CSU-East Bay:14.50%
    CSU-Fresno:13.70%
    CSU-Fullerton:12.80%
    CSU-Long Beach:10.70%
    CSU-Los Angeles:8.20%
    CSU-Monterey Bay:10.60%
    CSU-Northridge :6.80%
    CSU-Sacramento:9.30%
    CSU-San Bernard:11.60%
    CSU-San Marcos:10.80%
    CSU-Stanislaus:18.90%

    The cost-per-student is about $9500 this year in the CSU system, although the student fees for in-state residents is only about $2,500. The 6-year graduation rates rise to the 40%-60% range.

    The CSU teachers have negotiated a 20:1 teacher/student ratio (or so I’m lead to believe).

    So, a tenured position where the teachers don’t have to do much but go to class and their “product” (producing 4-year graduates) shows a 10% success rate is the status quo for these folks.

    It’s not hard to understand why teachers in the CSU system might well not want to see Distance education succeed, since it might well increase the 4-year graduation rate and reduce the cost of a college education.

    (Graduation rates are significantly higher in the California University System for 4-year graduates.)

  2. Well, I can tell you why faculty at my institution are concerned:

    1. Cheating. How do you prevent students from taking exams as “open book” (if you don’t WANT open book) or having a friend sit next to them and coach them? How do you control cheating? We ask our administration about this, and all they say is “Well, 80% of students in conventional classes admit to cheating.” Yes – but how many of those cheated once and got caught as opposed to those who continue to cheat?

    2. Workload. When one member of my department took on an e-class, the administration decided they could make more fees by doubling the number of students in his e-class. They didn’t understand that, because of the hand-holding component that seems to come with e-classes, that effectively doubled his workload (or very near to doubled). Also, no one’s addressed the intellectual property issues satisfactorily: does a prof still own the presentations he or she makes, or could a school, say, hire someone for a term, get lots of work out of them, and then not renew their contract but say “we own what you produced when you worked for us” – meaning they could hire a technician for a lot less to administer the class in the future.

    3. The feeling you are a webmaster/troubleshooter rather than a TEACHER. Another individual in my department who taught an e-class this summer expressed that concern to me. She said she felt like all she did was “unlock” tests for people who missed the deadline, or try to troubleshoot for people who didn’t know what was going wrong with their connection, stuff like that.

    4. How do you handle labs in the sciences? I refuse to teach a biology class where the “labs” are things like the students mixing vinegar and baking soda in their own kitchens. I suppose worthwhile “home” labs can be designed but I haven’t seen any at the college level. And I don’t like what virtual labs I’ve seen.

    I’d not be totally opposed to teaching an e-class if those issues could be overcome, but I also feel philisophically that what we need in our society is more, not less, human contact, and I wonder if some of the e-degree folks may be a bit lacking on that end of things.

  3. Walter E. Wallis says:

    It would appear that some form of proctoring sites would work for exams.

  4. Ricki…the cheating issue is real, but could be addressed by having the final exam at a physical site..intermediate exams could be online, and if the student cheats on these, he’s only hurting himself.

    I agree with your point about laboratories and about the inferiority of “virtual labs”…but there are lots of classes where lab isn’t a factor, and, even where it is, virtual labs seem to be gaining in popularity anyhow.

  5. Wayne Martin says:

    > Open Book Tests – In my experience, open-book tests were actually harder than closed-book tests, or the tests were designed so that comprehension of the material was the focus of the test, not so much the recitation of facts that might be available in a text book.

    > Cheating – “We ask our administration about this, and all they say is “Well, 80% of students in conventional classes admit to cheating.” Wow! This is astounding. Even with 80% of the students cheating the graduation rates are still so low. Well, if the 80% rate is true, it’s hard to believe that cheating can get to be too much worse in the case of distance learning classes. The point about the finals is a good one, although for people out-of-state (such as those in the military), that might not be so easy to achieve. My sense if that on-line tests should have a timer which runs for the test time, and then locks the form. This is not at all hard to do with WEB-based testing materials. Distance students should asked to sign a statement that this is their work with each test, so that if cheating is ever established to be true, then the student could be given an “F” for the course.

    >On-line Labs – the following are examples of on-line labs for biology:

    On-Line Biology Labs:
    http://biologylab.awlonline.com/
    http://www.zoo.utoronto.ca/able/resources/hotsites.htm
    http://www.as.uky.edu/biology/faculty/ferrier/bio150labs//
    http://www.sciencecourseware.org/

    I’d appreciate those opposed to them to tour some of these labs, and write up a review so that we can understand why these sites (or others) will not provide an adequate lab experience. It would be helpful for you to include the cost-to-provide laboratory components to your coursework so that it might be possible to attempt a cost-benefit-analysis between the two approaches.

  6. Cardinal Fang says:

    The school where I take classes has a lot of online classes, evidently popular. I’m planning to take two of them next semester, so I’ll get a firsthand look.

    At my school, a lot of online classes require students to take exams on campus in person, so then the cheating issues are the same as they are in regular, non online classes. Students for whom coming to campus is impossible can arrange for proctoring.

    About the four-year graduation rate for CSU campuses: I have heard from a lot of parents that because of the (lack of) availability of required classes, it can be difficult for even a motivated, hard-working student to graduate in four years. I doubt this is the major explanation for the abysmal graduation rate at CSU, but it’s a partial explanation.

    I wouldn’t be so quick to blame the teaching at CSU. More than half of the entering students require remedial classes in math or English. That has nothing to do with the professors.

  7. Wayne Martin says:

    > I have heard from a lot of parents that
    > because of the (lack of) availability of
    > required classes, it can be difficult
    > for even a motivated, hard-working student
    > to graduate in four years.

    This is extremely hard to believe, as it would suggest that the University system is engaging in something akin to fraud if it were purposefully requiring courses for graduation that it did not provide.

    However, Distance Learning would seem to be a very handy solution for such a problem.

    > More than half of the entering students
    > require remedial classes in math or English.

    This is true. The question, of course, is why are the standards so low? We’ve travelled the CSU remedial road before. The CSU system created much of this problem in the late ’70s and ’80s by graduating teachers who created this problem in the public schools by not preparing the students for college.

    > That has nothing to do with the professors.

    Maybe .. but it would be comforting to have the Faculty to be more vocal about the failure of the public school system, and to suggest that students should be required to meet the school’s standards for admission, rather than offered remedial courses.

  8. Cardinal Fang says:

    Wayne, courses are required for graduation, but over-enrolled. That is, the course is offered, but it can be difficult for a student to get a place in it.

    I don’t have hard numbers about this, but I’ve heard about it from numerous parents in the context of affordability of public vs. private colleges for California residents. Parents warn that it doesn’t make sense to compare the cost of four years at a private college to four years at a California public college, because (it is claimed) even hard-working motivated students at California public colleges have trouble graduating in four years, due to problems enrolling in required classes.

  9. Wayne Martin says:

    > (it is claimed) even hard-working
    > motivated students at California public
    > colleges have trouble graduating in four
    > years, due to problems enrolling in
    > required classes.

    Again, I find this hard to believe. However, if it is true, then this is a matter for the California State Auditor and the Legislature. The CSU system receives a lot of money:

    http://www.calstate.edu/budget/2006_07BudIndex/supportbdgt_book2/budget_plan_summary.shtml

    Over $4.2B for 06-0 timeframe. If the Administrators of this system can not provide the required courses for students to graduate in 4-years, it’s time to find out why. I encourage you to encourage the next parent who makes this claim to your write their legislative representative with their particular situation and demand a probe of the CSU system.

  10. Life is an open book test. How many times will a boss/supervisor/customer ask for something and say “By the way, you aren’t allowed to look anything up or talk to anybody about this…”? If a student can just look in a book or go online to answer a question then the test is just looking at regurgitation of facts–98% of which will likely have no influence on the student’s life after school.

    Cheating is a bit more complicated, but if it is considered cheating to ask an expert or look up an answer see the paragraph above. Team-based projects and interim tests can solve the problem of getting help from peers (and better approximate work life to boot). A proctored final exam is probably only necessary when the course leads to a certification that attests to a level of competency. In that case cheaters harm everyone by degrading the trust future employers/teachers place on the certification. In most other cases, the cheater just cheats him/herself, and sets up for failure in any subsequent course that requires understanding the content of that course.

  11. “How many times will a boss/supervisor/customer ask for something and say “By the way, you aren’t allowed to look anything up or talk to anybody about this…”?”…well, if you repeatedly ask your co-workers for help on stuff you should know yourself–and especially if your knowledge level isn’t sufficiently high to return the favor–you are going to find yourself pretty unpopular, and sooner or later you are going to stop getting help and find yourself out of a job.

  12. I’m a grad student at San Jose State (you missed it in your list of CSU schools, but it’s four year graduation rates are as abysmal as the others). The professors who teach in my department work very hard. They struggle to teach upper-division science courses to students who don’t have the necessary basic calculus or chemistry background, because the students typically don’t have the seniority to get into those classes until their fourth year. Most of our undergraduates know they’re on the “six year plan” and are resigned to it.

    Several of my professors have designed and run online courses. To a person, they say that it’s very difficult to construct a good online course. Presenting the material and interacting with the students is more difficult. Online classes also tend to be larger, entailing more grading work for the same number of units.

  13. Wayne Martin says:

    > You missed San Jose State ..

    San Jose State University:7.10%

    Sorry ..

  14. Thanks, Wayne. Okay, so San Jose State has a worse 4-year graduation rate than most. I’m not surprised.

    I finished my baccalaureate at one of the University of California campuses, back in the days of castles and dragons (1980), and was unusual in that I took (gasp! ) 4.5 years. _Nobody_ took more than 4 years. Some finished in 3.5. I was ill at the time, though I didn’t know it — depression — and it slowed me down.

    I’m distressed by the difficulty SJSU undergraduates have in graduating. Many (most?) of them are dismally prepared to do college-level work as freshmen. I have yet to meet one that doesn’t have at least a part-time job, while I, and most of my fellow classmates, were supported by our parents back in the 1970’s. They also seem to have a dizzying array of non-major requirements to satisfy, while all I had to do outside my major was demonstrate writing proficiency and take a couple of “Arts and Sciences” classes.

    Finally, I would point out that many of our undergraduates aren’t “kids”. They’re often in their mid-twenties or even thirties, they have families, maybe they miss class because their jobs demand 10 or 11 hours a day when deadlines loom. I don’t know how common this is in the CSU system, but it is the norm in my major at SJSU.

  15. Wayne Martin says:

    >>. Many (most?) of them are dismally prepared
    > to do college-level work as freshmen.

    A constant focus of this Blog.

    > They also seem to have a dizzying array
    > of non-major requirements to satisfy,

    Getting back to e-Learning, this is one of those areas where on-line courseware can provide students the ability to take these classes off-campus, or at times more convenient to the schedules.

    > They’re often in their mid-twenties or
    > even thirties, they have families, maybe
    > they miss class because their jobs demand
    > 10 or 11 hours a day when deadlines loom.

    Interesting point. None of the graduation data provides age data of the student body. It would be interesting to know if this is true of other CSU campuses.

    The cost-per-student in the CSU system is somewhere between around $9000 per year. The fee structure seems to be somewhere between 2,500 and 3,500 for in-state residents, making the per-student subsidy at/around $7,000 per student. It would seem that well-designed and effective distance learning programs would help to reduce the number of students on campus, and the per-cost-subsidy.

    This might result in downsizing somewhat, but state-sponsored schools should not see this as a problem.

  16. Cardinal Fang says:

    Going back to the initial comment in this thread, it seems to me that focusing on four year graduation rates is a mistake. A student who graduates after six years is a success, particularly in the case of CSU, where students might need remediation, might be taking a reduced course load because they’re working, and might not be able to get required courses until their fourth, fifth or sixth year.

    I’m more worried about the dropouts.

  17. Wayne Martin says:

    > it seems to me that focusing on
    > four year graduation rates is a mistake.

    The total cost of public subsidy needs to be considered here. Subsidizing students for 6 years rather than 4 years doesn’t sound good on face value. The use of e-Learning should be encouraged in order to reduce these subsidy costs.