Two Robins

Study: ‘Hybrid’ learning works in college

“Hybrid” or “blended” learning worked well for college students in a University of Maryland experiment. Students taught in the hybrid format earned similar grades and answered more exam questions correctly, compared to students in a traditional course.

In college courses, interactive online learning typically involves video lectures, extensive opportunities for discussion and interaction with instructors and peers, and online assignments and exams. Hybrid forms of such courses combine online learning components with traditional face-to-face instruction.

In this study, college students enrolled in hybrid sections of biology, statistics, pre-calculus, computer science, or communications or in sections that used the traditional face-to-face format.

Disadvantaged and underprepared student did as well in hybrid as in traditional classes.

Interactive online learning has the potential to lower college costs, the researchers believe.

College future

“A brash tech entrepreneur thinks he can reinvent higher education by stripping it down to its essence, eliminating lectures and tenure along with football games, ivy-covered buildings, and research libraries,” writes Graeme Wood in The Atlantic. Is this the future of college?

The Minerva Project was founded by 39-year-old high-tech entrepreneur Ben Nelson. He thinks his “online Ivy” will remake higher education. An accredited for-profit university, Minerva is starting with 33 students in San Francisco and plans sites in at least six other cities around the world.

The first class is all on scholarship, but future students will pay about $28,000 a year, including room and board. They will move each year to a new city. Buenos Aires, perhaps. Then Mumbai, Hong Kong or New York City.

Minerva will not teach introductory classes. Students are expected to pick up a book or a MOOC and learn that on their own. “Do your freshman year at home,” says Nelson. 

The technology of learning has changed little in the past half millennium, writes Wood.

The easiest way to picture what a university looked like 500 years ago is to go to any large university today, walk into a lecture hall, and imagine the professor speaking Latin and wearing a monk’s cowl. The most common class format is still a professor standing in front of a group of students and talking.

Minerva classes will be small seminars, not massive open online courses. They will use a proprietary online platform developed by a former Harvard dean, Stephen M. Kosslyn, a psychologist. In a test run of the online platform, a French physicist named Eric Bonabeau taught inductive reasoning.

Bonabeau began by polling us on our understanding of the reading, a Nature article about the sudden depletion of North Atlantic cod in the early 1990s. He asked us which of four possible interpretations of the article was the most accurate. . . . Within seconds, every student had to provide an answer, and Bonabeau displayed our choices so that we could be called upon to defend them.

Bonabeau led the class like a benevolent dictator, subjecting us to pop quizzes, cold calls, and pedagogical tactics that during an in-the-flesh seminar would have taken precious minutes of class time to arrange. He split us into groups to defend opposite propositions—that the cod had disappeared because of overfishing, or that other factors were to blame. . . . Bonabeau bounced between the two groups to offer advice as we worked. After a representative from each group gave a brief presentation, Bonabeau ended by showing a short video about the evils of overfishing. (“Propaganda,” he snorted, adding that we’d talk about logical fallacies in the next session.) The computer screen blinked off after 45 minutes of class.

The “continuous period of forced engagement” was “exhausting,” writes Wood. There was no time to think about larger aspects of the material, “because I had to answer a quiz question or articulate a position.”

I was forced, in effect, to learn. If this was the education of the future, it seemed vaguely fascistic. Good, but fascistic.

Minerva will attract people who are good at learning independently, writes Jordan Weissmann in Slate. Nelson expects Americans to make up only a tenth of Minerva’s students. The model will provide an alternative for well-off Chinese and Indians who want an American-style education but can’t get into elite U.S. universities.

MOOCs are a buffet

Only 5 percent of MOOC enrollees complete the course, but that says little about MOOCs’ educational value, argue Brandon Alcorn, Gayle Christensen, and Ezekiel J. Emanuel in The Atlantic.

With no cost to enroll, no penalty for dropping out, and little reward for actually earning a certificate, MOOCs are fundamentally different from traditional classes— and students use them in fundamentally different ways.

Data from more than 1.8 million students enrolled in 36 MOOCs offered by the University of Pennsylvania show that students treat MOOCs like a buffet, sampling the material according to their interests and goals. Some are curious about the subject matter and just watch one or two video lectures; others use the discussion forums to connect with their intellectual peers around the world. Of all enrolled students, nearly 60 percent watch at least one video, complete at least one assignment, or post at least once in a forum.

The Rule of Thirds applies, they write. Roughly one-third of students who sign up for a course watch the first lecture, one-third of those students watch the Week Four lecture, and of those, another third watch the Week Eight lecture and, finally, one-third of the remainder go on to complete enough of the assignments, quizzes, and exams to pass the course and receive a certificate.

What’s more important is the 60 percent engagement rate, they argue.

CC, for-profit grads compete equally for jobs

Job seekers are as attractive to employers with a for-profit certificate or degree as with a community college credential, concludes a new study, which sent fictitious resumes to employers. Community colleges charge a lot less, the researchers pointed out.

Applicants with “some college” did little better than those with just a high school diploma.

Teacher Power!

On PBS NewsHour tonight, John Tulenko visits a teacher-led school, Mission Hill in Boston.

Checking out of the Hotel California

A California teachers’ union leader thinks membership will become voluntary — and is OK with that — writes Larry Sand in Checking Out of the Hotel California.

Intercepts has posted “declassified” California Teachers Association strategy documents. Doug Tuthill, a former union leader, urges the CTA to prepare for the courts to invalidate “fair share,” mandatory dues for all teachers, in Not if, but when: Living in a world without Fair Share.

Tuthill suggests ways to persuade teachers that it’s in their interest to join the union, notes Sand. Teachers could adopt the model of the “two most effective unions” in the U.S.,  the National Rifle Association and the AARP.

Unlike today’s teachers unions, the NRA and AARP do not require their members to be part of a centralized bureaucracy. Their members are united by common values and interests, not by location. An NRA-AARP type teachers union would be able to advocate for teachers working in a variety of settings, including museums, libraries, district schools, virtual schools, art galleries, charter schools, homeschools, tutoring businesses, private schools, YWCAs, and Boys and Girls Clubs. The work setting would be irrelevant, just as where NRA and AARP members work — or where American Bar Association lawyers and American Medical Association doctors work — is irrelevant.

A former classroom teacher, Sand is president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network. 

Once a lunch lady, García will run NEA

Lily Eskelsen García will become president of the National Education Association. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

Her first job after high school was “salad girl” in a school cafeteria. She worked her way through college playing the guitar in coffeehouses and became Utah’s teacher of the year. On Sept. 1, Lily Eskelsen García, 59, will take over as head of the National Education Association, reports the Washington Post.

The NEA is the nation’s largest labor union, representing one in 100 Americans. But it’s been losing membership and political support.

She is already fighting back with blunt talk, urging teachers nationwide to revolt against “stupid” education reforms and telling politicians to leave teaching to the professionals.

Her first priority: Putting the brakes on standardized testing, an issue she says she believes will resonate not only with her members but also with parents — important potential allies for the political clashes she sees ahead. García says that the country is in the grip of testing mania, the quest for high scores killing joy, narrowing curriculums and perverting the learning process.

“I’ll be damned if I will sit quietly and play nice and say diplomatic things about something that has corrupted the profession I love,” García said.

The union has clashed with the Obama administration on testing and teacher evaluations, notes the Post. In July, the NEA demanded Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s resignation.

Duncan and Rep. George Miller, a liberal Democrat, “shocked teachers in June when they applauded a Los Angeles judge’s ruling that California’s teacher tenure laws were unconstitutional,” reports the Post.

The movement to weaken teachers’ job protections has gone national.

García, an elementary teacher, got into union politics after being chosen “teacher of the year.” At a union conference, she played her guitar and sang an original composition: “I’m-a-Teacher-and-I-Got-To-Work-In-Utah Blues.”

The daughter of a Panamanian immigrant, Garcia was the first in her family to go to college.

Her husband of 38 years committed suicide three years ago after struggling with depression for years.

“Both her sons have struggled with drug addiction,” reports the Post. The younger son, has spent time in prison for theft and burglary. García, who adopted Jared when he was 4, rescuing him from an early childhood of abuse, said, “I thought: ‘I’m a great teacher. I’ve got all this love.’ But that’s not how it works.”

Meme me this

Darren used the meme generator to introduce students to his classroom rules. For example:

Dollars for degrees: Engineering pays

North Carolina is making it easier for students to predict the dollar value of college degrees. A new state web site will provide median earnings and employment by major, degree and campus.

All the top-paying two- and four-year degrees are in engineering and technology. A four-year graduate in nuclear engineering can expect to earn nearly $90,000 in five years, while the median income for theater graduates is $10,400 after five years.