A different way to do college

Minerva is a selective liberal arts college without a classroom or campus, reports PBS NewsHour.

The dormitory is on one floor of this old apartment building Nob Hill. Students will spend the first year here, and then the subsequent six semesters living and studying in six different cities around the world. Next year, they head to Buenos Aires and Berlin.

But the professors don’t go with them. In fact, they can be anywhere, including home, because they see their students exclusively online, via a proprietary software platform called the Active Learning Forum. It fosters a face-paced, engaging, seminar-style class. No lectures allowed.

Minerva has partnered with the Keck Graduate Institute, part of the Claremont University Consortium, to gain accreditation.

Competency degrees help working adults

Working adults are turning to online competency-based programs to cut the cost and time of earning a degree.

Virtual ed works in Florida

“Virtual education” is working for Florida high school students, concludes a Program on Education Policy and Governance working paper.

Florida Virtual School (FLVS) students taking Algebra or English I earn do as well or better on state math and reading tests as those in traditional courses, report Matt Chingos of Brookings and Guido Schwerdt of the University of Konstanz.

FLVS has expanded access to Advanced Placement and other courses, the study found.

Technology can support at-risk students’ learning concludes a report by the Alliance for Excellent Education and the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE). “Well-designed interactive programs allow students to see and explore concepts from different angles using a variety of representations.”

School choice isn’t enough

School choice shouldn’t just be about “which one” but also about “what kind or how much or even whether or not,” writes Michael Mazenko in the Denver Post.

American education is almost exclusively designed to prepare students for university study and bachelor degrees. Even kindergarten teachers talk to kids and parents about “college readiness.” The added emphasis on STEM subjects in recent years narrows the focus even more.

Excluded from the system, however, are students who would prefer to learn a trade and work in skilled labor. Excluded are the kids who focus predominantly on the arts. Excluded are students who won’t sit passively in rows for 12 years completing worksheets and bubbling in standardized tests. Excluded are many children who don’t fit the “common” profile with “common” goals and standardized dreams.

Public education “should be offered as an opportunity,” writes Mazenko, a high school English teacher. It shouldn’t be a “mandate.”

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.

NanoDegree promises fast track to workforce

For $200 a month, anyone who’s mastered high school math can earn an online NanoDegree in programming in six to 12 months and qualify for an entry-level job at AT&T.  The company created the new credential with Udacity, which is working on more industry-linked NanoDegrees.

Online, competency degree is aimed at adults

Washington state community colleges plan to offer an online, competency-based associate degree in business designed for working adults. Students should be able to complete a degree in 18 months or less for $2,666 per six-month semester.

With college costs rising, competency-based degree programs are expanding.

Online learning is hard, but helpful

California community college students are taking more courses online, but completion rates are lower in online courses, according to a new report. Online learning appears to help stronger students complete their degrees.

Credit recovery goes online

As high schools struggle to raise graduation rates, many have turned to online credit recovery programs, writes Hechinger’s Sarah Carr on Education Next. Are students learning — or just being moved along? It’s not clear, but many are dubious.

“There’s a political motivation,” says David Bloomfield, professor of educational leadership, law, and policy at Brooklyn College. “It’s an end run around higher standards.”

Oceanside Unified in California improved graduation rates after opening three centers that offer online credit recovery. Superintendent Larry Perondi believes “the centers have improved the life prospects of students who would have dropped out otherwise, including young parents and teens battling drug addiction.”

Perondi “encourages the district’s best teachers to work” in the centers and assigns extra counselors and social workers to support students.

Three New Orleans charters enroll only students who’ve fallen behind in coursework.

Their supporters argue that the schools provide a much-needed safety valve for students who don’t work well in conventional settings and prefer to move through courses at their own pace; critics worry about the quality of the online courses and fear they take the onus off of traditional high schools to meet the needs of all students.

At the Jefferson Chamber Foundation Academy, the average student is an 18-year-old sophomore. “Some of the students failed the same classes multiple times; others dropped out for a period of months, or years,” writes Carr. “The school supplements the online courses with in-person tutorials and small-group instruction.”

The NET, another charter for high-risk students, combines online courses with traditional in-person classes and “advisories.”

Students and teachers say the online courses have some universal benefits: the teenagers can move at their own pace and get instant feedback on how they are doing.

. . . The biggest drawback, however, is that many of the courses are either too easy or too hard. . . . stronger schools and teachers are increasingly figuring out how to use the online courses as a jumping-off point to address individual students’ needs, supplementing easy courses with more challenging material, for instance, or harder courses with extra in-person tutorials.

But some schools rely exclusively on the online courses.