Is online learning for steerage?

Is online learning for steerage passengers, while only the elite actually meet their professors? MOOC madness is raising questions.

 App Academy‘s nine-week course in software coding is free — till students graduate and find a job. Then the for-profit takes 15 percent of their first year’s base pay,

an average of $12,000 per graduate. Graduates who aren’t hired within a year pay nothing.

Crowdsourcing Sociology 101

Millions of students around the world are enrolled in hundreds of MOOCs (massive open online courses), reports the New York Times. To evaluate students’ progress, Princeton Sociology Professor Mitchell Duneier is crowdsourcing his Introduction to Sociology class, which enrolls 40,000 students.

 “It was really intimidating at the beginning to do these lectures with no live audience, no sense of who was listening and how they were reacting,” Professor Duneier said. “I talk about things like racial differences in I.Q., Abu Ghraib and public bathrooms, and I worried that my lectures might come across as examples of American ethnocentrism.”

Feedback came quickly. When his first lecture went online, students wrote hundreds, then thousands, of comments and questions in online discussion forums — far too many for Professor Duneier to keep up with. But crowd-sourcing technology helped:  every student reading the forum could vote questions and comments up or down, allowing him to spot important topics and tailor his lectures to respond.

Each student must score the work of five classmates to get their own score, which is an average of what classmates have given them. To see whether peer grading matches traditional grading, Professor Duneier and his assistants graded thousands of midterms and finals.

“I had to announce to the students that some had gotten scores that were higher than they should have been,” he said. “And as data, the midterm scores are useless. But it helped us learn more about writing rubrics.”

. . . So far, he has found an impressive correlation of 0.88. The average peer score was 16.94 of 24 possible points, compared with an average teaching-staff score of 15.64. Peer graders give more accurate scores on good exams than bad ones, they found, and the lower the score, the more variance among graders.

About 3 percent of students copied from Wikipedia.

Princeton doesn’t offer a certificate of completion for MOOCs and less than 5 percent of sociology enrollees took the exams. That added up to 2,200 midterm exams and 1,283 final exams, still a heavy scoring burden without crowdsourcing.

College credit for MOOCs?

If students could earn transferable credits for MOOCs (massive open online courses), the cost of higher education will go way down. The American Council on Education and Coursera, a MOOC provider, are looking for ways to translate MOOC learning into college credits, reports the New York Times.

 The council’s credit evaluation process will begin early next year, using faculty teams to begin to assess how much students who successfully complete Coursera MOOCs have learned. Students who want to take the free classes for credit would have to pay a fee to take an identity-verified, proctored exam. If the faculty team deems the course worthy of academic credit, students who do well could pay for a transcript to submit to the college of their choice. Colleges are not required to accept those credits, but similar transcripts are already accepted by 2,000 United States colleges and universities for training courses offered by the military or by employers.

Coursera, founded last year by two Stanford computer professors, Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, has 33 university partners and nearly two million students, who currently can earn certificates of completion, but not academic credit, for their work.

The Gates Foundation is funding research on using MOOCs in remedial math and writing classes.

A free remedial math MOOC is being developed by the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  The six-week course will be open to high school students and adult learners who hope to avoid the remedial track and start in college-level math classes.

In a “Fast Track” pilot this summer, 38 low-scoring students took the online course. After six weeks, all but one qualified for college-level math and science courses.

Minnesota: Free online courses are illegal

It’s illegal to offer free, online courses in Minnesota, state education officials have told Coursera, which partners with universities to provide massive open online courses, or MOOC’s. Under state law, a degree-granting institution must pay get state authorization and pay a registration fee to offer instruction.

It’s a matter of  ”consumer protection for students,” Tricia Grimes, a policy analyst for the state’s Office of Higher Education, told the Chronicle of Higher Education. 

Stanford, Columbia, Michigan, et al don’t charge students for Coursera courses and don’t offer degrees to MOOC students. That doesn’t matter, another official tells Slate.  Students can’t waste their money, but they might waste their time in a non-authorized course, says George Roedler, manager of institutional registration and licensing at the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.

Coursera added a terms of service notice telling Minnesotans not to do any learning, unless they go out of state. I predict ridicule will lead to a MOOC exception very quickly.

Update:  Ridicule works! Minnesota education officials have issued a statement saying free higher ed doesn’t require state approval.

MOOC opens the door

Massive Open Online Courses are the next big thing for learners who don’t need college credit.