Low pass rate puts MOOC pilot on hold

San Jose State and Udacity have put their low-cost, for-credit MOOC experiment on hold for a semester because of high failure rates. After a semester off to rethink the design, online courses will resume.

Community colleges are creating free online courses and study guides to help students learn basic skills and avoid remedial courses.  A Cleveland community college is using game-based learning to help high school students prepare for college-level courses.

A MOOC education

To be a superprofessor (a MOOC prof) is an act of aggression, writes Jonathan Rees, a Colorado State history professor. Massive open online courses aren’t as educational as traditional courses, even if they’re cheaper, he argues.

Being a Luddite is an act of absurdity, responds Matthew Ladner, who believes in creative destruction.

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Master teachers take the lead

A master teacher, an assistant and blended learning produced “great results” at a new charter school with very disadvantaged children, concludes Public Impact‘s Opportunity Culture project. Touchstone Education opened Merit Preparatory Charter School in Newark in 2012 with a class of sixth graders. Most were several years below grade level; 90 percent came from low-income families.

By March 2013, seven months into the school year, students demonstrated two years of growth in reading and 1.25 years of growth in science. In math, where Touchstone leaders were unable to hire a master teacher, students made three-fourths of a year of growth by March.

The model allows master teachers, who lead teams of novice and developing teachers, to earn up to $100,000 a year, within per-pupil funding. Tiffany McAfee, the master teacher in literacy, worked with first-year Teach For America teacher Jonathan Wigfall in the school’s first year.

Laptop-equipped students were grouped by skill level. McAfee lead whole-group instruction and helped students work through their playlists of individualized lessons, while Wigall rotated among students to help them with questions and keep them on track.

For example, one day students worked in groups to study slides on figurative language,then watched a music video while listening on headphones,taking notes on examples of figurative language in the lyrics. Meanwhile, both teachers moved through the room, overseeing their work. Students then came together for a whole class discussion with McAfee, who asked higher-level questions about the purpose of figurative language and the author’s intent.

Helping less-experienced teachers improve their skills is part of the master teacher’s job. McAfee and Wigfall reviewed the week’s data every Friday and planned the following week’s lessons. The master teacher also worked with the school’s reading specialist and the special education teacher to plan the daily, three-hour reading block. (Students are pulled out for an hour of P.E.)

Next year, Merit Prep will hire a master teach in math in hopes of achieving gap-closing progress.

Charlotte, North Carolina is redesigning teachers’ jobs to improve low-performing schools, write Public Impact’s Emily Ayscue Hassel and Bryan C. Hassel in Education Next.  Again, the idea is to give more students access to excellent teachers, while using novices in support roles.

Charlotte, N.C.’s Project L.I.F.T.New Teaching Roles Create Culture of Excellence in High-Need Schools explains the plan. In One Teacher’s View of Becoming a Paid Teacher-Leader, a veteran teacher talks about becoming a multi-classroom leader.

MOOC mania may be slowing

MOOC mania may be slowing. Even boosters of massive open online courses wonder if they’re just a fad. So far, few MOOC students are applying for college credit, in part because many already have earned degrees.

How will technology change higher education? Instead of listening to lectures, students could learn in personalized online environments.

Lexington: Fix adult ESL

Adult classes in English aren’t helping immigrants (and some native-born English Language Learners) very much, concludes a Lexington Institute report. It’s believed only 40 percent of adult ESL improve their proficiency level.

While most adult ESL is taught at community colleges and school district adult education programs, Lexington advocates more flexible approaches being developed by community organizations, adult charter schools and employers.

For example, Los Angeles-based PUENTE Learning Center uses blended learning to individualize instruction and track student progress toward proficiency. The result is consistently lower drop-out rates and proficiency improvements than the national average. In one year (2005), fully 85% of learners advanced in proficiency compared to the national average of 40%.

Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School in Washington, DC is another example of a community-based program achieving strong results.

In addition, federal, state and local policymakers should gather “rigorous and useful data” and reward programs that accelerate language learning, Lexington recommends.

I’d bet more immigrants are going online to improve their English fluency. USA Learns, which is funded by the U.S. and California Education Departments, is free.

CC online courses help 4-year students

Four-year college students are using online community college courses to finish their degrees.

Community colleges aren’t just “second-chance” institutions.

Future teachers

Digital learning will change teachers’ jobs, but we’ll still need teachers, writes Michael Horn in Forbes.

As blended learning grows in K–12 education, it is not eliminating teachers, but eliminating certain traditional job functions of teachers. This change in the role of the teacher is, as others and I have noted, in part about allowing computers to do what computers do well to free up teachers to do what only humans can do.

. . . It appears likely that there will be more room for teachers to focus on deeper learning by working with students on higher-order skills and the application of knowledge in rich projects. Teachers should spend less time handling mundane administrative tasks that suck up time and less time delivering one-size-fits-none lesson plans. Teachers will have far more time to work with students one-on-one and in small groups and target their interactions in more meaningful ways.

Many blended-learning schools are unbundling teachers’ roles, Horn writes.

Some teachers serve as content experts and others as mentors and learning coaches. Some focus on tutoring, whereas others specialize in small-group projects or on making the learning relevant to the outside world. Still others act as case workers or counselors (but actually spend the majority of their day in the learning environment with students) to focus on the non-academic problems—like food, health, or emotional issues—that too often trip up students (and sadly receive short shrift in many schools today).

Unbundling has enabled Rocketship Education to pay teachers more. At Summit Public Schools, a team of teachers works with students in a large learning environment.

MOOCs: A head start on college — but kids need help

High school students could use MOOCS (massive open online courses) to earn college credits, Coursera cofounder Daphne Koller tells Anya Kamenetz on Hechinger Digital.

“There are so many studies that demonstrate the benefit to students in high school in having access to college-level material. It encourages them to go to college and complete college. But that opportunity has largely been available to the most advanced students at highly endowed school districts that have teachers that can teach college-level subjects. It’s been a very inequitable offering.”

With the help of a MOOC, a high school teacher who is “passionate and motivated, but not necessarily expert” can teach a college course, Knoller says.

Ohio is looking at MOOCs to prepare students for college and prevent the need for remediation.

The San Jose State Plus pilot, a partnership with Udacity, offers three remedial and entry-level math courses to high school, community college or university students. The for-credit courses cost only $150.

At the Oakland Military Institute, a charter school with predominantly low-income students, some students didn’t have the computers or Internet access at home needed for the college statistics course, reports the San Jose Mercury News. And “many needed personal attention to make it through.”

To make it work, the institute had to issue laptops to students, set aside class time for them to focus on the online course, and assign teachers to make sure they stayed on task.

. . . With more than 700 students in grades 6 through 12, the school had to devote much of its computer lab space, equipment and staffing to online courses for the roughly 45 students taking the Udacity courses. A donation paid for the course fees.

Answering questions and keeping students on task consumed much of his time, said Omar Solache, a computer teacher with two other job titles. A second teacher was assigned to help ease his load.

“They’re so used to having teachers right there with them,” Solache said.

Students watched short videos, chatted with online tutors available around the clock and moved at their own pace, reviewing what they didn’t understand. An evaluation of the pilot will be available in the fall.

Here’s a research report on San Jose State’s partnership with edX on an introductory engineering MOOC.

‘Elite’ prof on video may not be the best teacher

As online learning transforms higher ed, free courses by elite universities will provide content for lesser institutions’ core courses, predicts Jeffrey Selingo in College (Un)Bound. A community college dean disagrees: “Elite” professors on video may not be the best teachers, especially for introductory courses taken by non-elite students.

Higher ed is due for creative destruction

Higher education is due for some creative destruction. Professors will resist, but online education will transform postsecondary ed, leaving only the most elite colleges and universities relatively untouched.