Online learning disrupts teacher ed

Online learning is disrupting teacher education, writes Meredith Liu, a visiting fellow at Innosight Institute, on Education Next.

The four largest education schools, in terms of bachelor’s and postbachelor’s degrees granted in 2011, were online programs, including the University of Phoenix (5,976) and Walden University (4,878), reports the U.S. Education Department.

University of Southern California’s online master’s — MAT@USC — uses interactive, web-based lectures and classes of 15 students.

  Similar to a webinar, students sign into a live session hosted by the professor. All class participants are visible to each other via individual video feeds and can signal to the professor when they want to speak. . . . Each class is archived in a video library for later review on the student’s computer or mobile device. The program facilitates learning outside of class through online study groups and a customized social-networking platform for students and faculty.

USC arranges for teacher candidates to complete 20 weeks of in-classroom training in their own communities. Student teachers can record and upload their lessons to USC faculty and classmates for feedback.

From 2008 to 2010, USC expanded from 100 to 2,200 degree candidates thanks to the online program, even though MAT@USC charges $40,000 for the 13-month program, the same as the on-campus price tag.

Western Governors University (WGU), a nonprofit, fully online university, offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education. Because WGU measures competency rather than credits, students can move quickly to a degree. The average student earns a bachelor’s degree in two and a half years.

The assessment for each competency uses multiple formats, including traditional testing, portfolio assignments, and observations. As many students have significant professional experience, they can skip some course content altogether and proceed directly to the assessment. For example, a career engineer switching into teaching does not need to suffer through introductory science and math courses to become a physics teacher.

Students complete their demonstration teaching near where they live.

WGU charges $2,890 for a six-month term during which students can take as many courses as they want.

WGU education graduates have “slightly higher rates of certification and employment than those attending comparison schools,” Liu writes. Still, it’s too soon to say whether online-trained teachers are as good as traditionally trained teachers.

By lowering opportunity costs — would-be teachers don’t have to quit their jobs and move to campus — online programs open up the profession to a wide range of people, notes Liu.

A cheaper, faster, online degree

After a shaky start, Western Governors University — an accredited, low-cost, nonprofit online university — is helping working adults earn degrees quickly and cheaply. WGU degrees are based on mastery, not on “seat time,” enabling the average bachelor’s graduate to finish a degree in 30 months for about $15,000.

Also on Community College SpotlightWomen make up nearly half the community college faculty in science, math and technology fields.

Online to a college degree

Online degrees could transform high-cost higher education, writes the New York Times.

As Wikipedia upended the encyclopedia industry and iTunes changed the music business, these businesses have the potential to change higher education.

Four years on a college campus may be the ideal, but many people don’t have the time or money — or the academic interests.  For the large number of students seeking a job credential, the lower-cost online classes are very attractive.

Chester E. Finn Jr., a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, predicted that all but the top tier of existing universities would “change dramatically” as students regained power in an expanding marketplace.

“Instead of a full entree of four years in college, it’ll be more like grazing or going to tapas bars,” Mr. Finn said, “with people piecing together a postsecondary education from different sources.”

The quality of online classes varies. Graduation rates are lower for online community college students, according to a recent study in Washington state.  Professors warn online students will learn narrow job skills but not “critical thinking.”  (Unlike so many traditional college students, who don’t learn job skills or critical thinking.)

Anya Kamenetz, whose 2010 book, DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, tracks the new wave of Web-based education efforts, says the new institutions will only continue to improve and expand. “For some people, it will mean going from a good education to a great one,” she said. “For others, it will mean getting some kind of education, instead of nothing.”

The Times takes a closer look at Western Governors University, which includes a weekly call from a mentor, the very low-cost Straighterline, Learning Counts, which gives credit for job experience, and University of the People, which offers nearly free courses to Third Worlders.

Reporter Tamar Lewin tried Straighterline statistics and English courses, discovering it’s easy to cheat and hard to learn without a teacher. Lacking motivation and unwilling to buy the textbooks, she quit.

But what about people who don’t have a degree or marketable job skills? They can take out loans for butt-in-seat classes in hopes they’ll graduate, get a decent job and be able to pay off the debt. They can turn to community colleges, which have struggled to handle enrollment growth. Or they can try lower-cost online programs.