The Issue of Part-Time Community College Students

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

For college students in general, a 2011 survey found that 75% are part-time. Of these, “Even when given twice as long to complete certificates and degrees, no more than a quarter ever make it to graduation day.”1 Another study in 2012, focusing on community college students, found that 59% are part-time. Of these, 42% work more than 30 hours a week, 37% care for dependents 11 or more hours a week, and 40% take evening or weekend classes.2

In comparison to full-time students, part-timers fail at over twice the rate in completing certificate and degree programs. Here’s a breakdown from the 2011 survey:


Considering their numbers and their low completion rates, it’s a wonder that community colleges continue to do business as usual, with little or no change in practices that date back over half a century.

Thus, I was pleasantly surprised to find, in my college emailbox, an announcement that I’ve been returning to, off and on, for the past few days. It is a call for proposals to address the problem of part-timers. The proposed plan has to either (1) assist part-time students earn 12 credits in an academic year or (2) shorten their time-to-degree. The deadline is close and the form is complicated, so I won’t be submitting a proposal. But I do have some thoughts on this subject.

From a part-time student’s perspective, college is only one of a handful of other responsibilities with higher priorities. S/he has to be able to fit it into her life, and not the other way around. The problem is that colleges are set up for traditional students whose main priority is to complete a program. So, like a square peg, she’s trying to fit into a round hole.

The courses she needs are either filled or offered at a time that’s not convenient for her. Offerings at night or on weekends are slim pickings. Even when she can fit a class in, she finds it difficult to meet deadlines, complete learning activities, or obtain learning assistance. Competing for her time are work and family demands. Furthermore, the commute to campus is all too often time-consuming and, if she drives, the cost of gas and limited parking stalls are an ongoing concern.

The fact that our hypothetical part-timer is among the majority of students who are poorly served should be an incentive to change, from a perspective that’s campus-centered to one that’s student-centered. In other words, colleges ought to be asking, How can we accommodate part-timers with their unique needs?

The title of the 2011 report mentioned above goes to the heart of the problem — “Time Is the Enemy.” The traditional college schedule is the enemy of the part-time student. It’s in one dimension, while part-timers are in another. Put another way, part-timers make up a completely different population that isn’t being served by the colleges as they are now. Put in still another way, part-timers are an open invitation for disruption, for a disruptive approach that will accommodate the needs of a large population of students who are currently being ignored.  Continue reading

Understanding the Brain, Flipped Teaching, Suicide Prevention, Common Core Shifts


University of Chicago MOOCing in a big way… a free MOOC, Understanding the Brain: The Neurobiology of Everyday Life (Coursera), begins on April 28. According to Hannah Nyhart and Steve Koppes, “enrollment for [the] course has reached 27,000 and climbing” (“Neurobiology Online Course to Attempt World’s Largest Memory Experiment,” Medical Press, 4/23/14). Last fall, the university’s Asset Pricing MOOC enrolled 41,000 and Global Warming, 15,000.

Getting What You Pay For? A Look at America’s Top-Ranked Public Universities (ACTA, April 2014) is available for download. Here’s a quote from the 75-page document: “In a 2013 survey of over 300 employers, 93% of the executives responded that critical thinking, clear communication skills, and problem solving ability are more important to them than the undergraduate major. A majority called upon colleges to put more emphasis on writing, science, and mathematics, and over 40% called for greater emphasis on foreign language proficiency” (8). If you’ve been following studies such as this, you’re probably thinking, So what else is new. Seems the year is interchangeable, with the results remaining constant.

In an email conversation earlier this morning re this ACTA report, Harry Keller said, “At least in K-12 education, we should … merge these into a single curriculum that reaches into ELA, math, and science and that uses, as necessary, art, engineering, history, etc.” I agreed with Harry. The separation of subjects to fit schooling is unnatural. In the real world, they’re all part of a whole. Teachers have tried team teaching and interdisciplinary approaches to simulate an integrated approach, but these are always awkward and, IMHO, not sustainable. The integration has to be within the teacher. The implication for schools is flipped teaching — instead of teaching from the inside (classroom) out, they would be teaching from the outside (real world) in. This would also mean a whole new breed of teachers, with significant background in the arts and sciences as well as skill in bringing the different disciplines together in seamless learning activities in a way that’s similar to the project-learning approach.

Engaging College Students in Mental Health Awareness and Suicide Prevention (Kognito and Active Minds)… “a free one-hour webinar to discuss best practices for engaging and training students in gatekeeper skills” and suicide prevention. Scheduled for Wed, Apr 30, 2014, 4:00 PM – 5:00 PM EDT. A second webinar is scheduled for Fri, May 2, 2014, 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM EDT. Hopefully they’ll include a segment on detecting the need for help among students enrolled in online courses.

The Most Challenging Instructional Shifts in the CCSS for English/Language Arts (Education Week)… a free webinar with an emphasis on changing the way students think as well as instruction and administration. “Four of the most challenging shifts” are: Emphasis on Academic Vocabulary, Complex Text, Close Reading, and Greater Emphasis on Informational Text. Scheduled for May 1, 2014, 2 to 3 p.m. ET. As an online teacher, I’ve learned that the ability to read, correctly interpret, remember, and apply textual information is the most important skill for students in online classes.

Flipping Without Flopping: A Three-Year Study. Real Results (Echo 360)… a free webinar. Two separate sessions, May 8 for US/Europe at 11am EDT and May 14 for ANZ/Asia at 11am AEST. Review the research.

The Symbiosis of College and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

kenji mori80ABy Kenji Mori
Student at Kapi’olani Community College
University of Hawai’i

Information Technology has great potential for education. As one college student says, “It allows for a plethora of knowledge to be shared, as well as content that is created by other users to reach a wider audience than would ordinary [SIC] be possible” (Taylor). In recent years, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have taken advantage of this in order to offer free courses over the Internet. Unlike most online college classes, these courses allow tens or even hundreds of thousands of students around the globe to widen their knowledge. MOOCs have much to offer students. The integration of MOOCs in college courses will lead to a better learning experience.

Recently, when I was introduced to the concept of MOOCs, I created an account on Udacity and edX – two of the leading providers of MOOC content. My eyes lit up as I found courses not only on introductory level subjects but also on more advanced topics such as artificial intelligence and cryptography. These courses are offered by top universities such as Harvard and MIT and conducted by world-renowned professors.

MOOCs generally follow the format of a series of video lectures interspersed with quizzes. They do not derive most of their appeal from the use of innovation. After all, they are not far different from the lectures we see in today’s classrooms. Rather, they are revolutionary in that they make education available in a way thus unprecedented. Free, quality education is being made available to all. According to one national poll, about half of the families in the United States cannot afford college (Allebrand). For them, MOOCs are a godsend. For graduates, MOOCs give the opportunity to become life-long learners. Even for college students, there is much to gain.  Continue reading

A Caltech Grad in a Caltech MOOC, Part 4 (updated 12/8/13)

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

[Note: Harry, who holds a BS in chemistry from the California Institute of Techology and a PhD in analytical chemistry from Columbia University, is sharing his first MOOC experience in this series. See part 1, 2, 3 and 5. -Editor]

November 12, 2013

Week six was not an easy week. Some emergencies took away time I had expected to spend on the course. The material was interesting but difficult. The pace was rapid.

This week, we learned about the crucial issue of overfitting in machine learning and about its cure, regularization. These are not topics for the faint at heart because they go deep into the world of machine learning and involve a great deal of mathematics.

The homework was both hard and easy. Once again, I was tested on my programming ability more than on my understanding of the topics in a few of the questions. I’m not sure how one might create a course on machine learning that did not include writing software because machine learning, by definition, uses computer algorithms.

I find the homework deadlines both useful and frustrating. Were it not for the deadlines, I’d have plenty of higher-priority things to do and probably never get it done. However, I constantly have to deal with being unable to plumb the depths of the material or even complete the homework satisfactorily in the time available. This course certainly does not allow one to proceed at one’s own pace, although it does allow you to set your own schedule within the course calendar.

The mathematics continues to use the full panoply of mathematics symbols and expressions. Do not go near this course without a very good background in advanced mathematics: calculus, set theory, matrix algebra, and more.

I feel that I’m being asked to learn much more than I have to learn. This is supposed to be an introduction to machine learning. I’m rather intimidated by the prospect of an advanced course. Yet, the pearls of learning are there to be gathered, scattered among all of the mathematics, abstruse concepts, and software writing. This is not a mere aggregation of tools. This course provides a sound mathematical footing for every tool provided — if you can hack the math.

I had absolutely no time to even peek at the discussions this week but didn’t really have to because the material was clear enough, and the homework was also clear while being mostly tough. One or two questions were fairly easy to answer, but the rest took some work.

Looking at the answer key, I discovered that I shouldn’t have changed my answer to one of the questions, but I do not understand why. I still think I had the right answer the second time.

The final grade on the MOOC is not in yet, but I’m guaranteed a homework grade of at least a B and a course grade of a C at this point. The next lecture, on validation, looks like it will be one of the most valuable yet. I just wish I knew that I am learning everything well. With this sort of MOOC, that’s a real challenge.

[Update 12/8/13 – Harry submitted the following report on 11/18/13, but I didn’t see it in my mailbox until this morning. My apologies to Harry and to you, the readers. -Editor]

November 18, 2013

The lectures this week were very informative. The homework was another matter entirely. Possibly, I’ve topped out here, but there was a significant issue that should be addressed. Continue reading

Can America’s Wasted Talent Be Harnessed Through the Power of Internet Based Learning?

Jim_Riggs80By Jim Riggs
Professor, Advanced Studies in Education
College of Education
CSU Stanislaus
President Emeritus, Columbia College (1997-2007)

For nearly 150 years, the American dream of a better life of economic success and advancement has been found largely through the narrow path of higher education. However, access to traditional higher education has always been limited to the top one-third of the adult population and by all indications will continue to be rationed at this level or less into the foreseeable future. Peter Smith, in his 2010 book, Harnessing America’s Wasted Talent: A New Ecology of Learning, points out that while traditional higher education will continue to serve this segment of the population, educational leaders must find alternative ways that will effectively meet the postsecondary education needs of a much larger segment of the adult population.

Smith is not alone in this thinking. There have been numerous reports in recent years that have also called for greater access, flexibility, credit portability and increasing degree completion for a much larger percentage of the adult population. In addition, many of these reports place a special emphasis on closing the growing achievement gap, which is increasingly leaving Latinos and African-Americans behind other groups when it comes to earning college degrees. Why is this important? There is a strong and growing consensus among policy makers, educators, economists and scholars that, if this country is to remain an economic superpower, a much larger and more diverse segment of the adult population must be better educated.

America’s current workforce is aging and retiring, and 85% of all new jobs now require some college education. A real crisis is rapidly developing  — America is finding itself with an escalating gap between the increasingly sophisticated workforce skill demands of the new economy and what the average American worker has to offer. In a 2011 report, The Undereducated American, Georgetown University professors Anthony Carnevale and Stephen Rose provide a strong argument that America will need a dramatic increase in the number of individuals with college degrees within the next decade. This increase in college graduates, according to Carnevale and Rose, is not only needed to help sustain the nation’s economic growth but will also help reverse the 30 year trend of growth in income inequity.

However, with the downturn in the economy over the past six years, we are once again reminded that a college degree alone is not a complete guarantee against economic challenges or underemployment. Economic growth and viability cannot solely depend on education. Nonetheless, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the greatest predictor of personal income and employability for Americans still is, and will continue to be, their level of educational attainment.  Continue reading

A Caltech Grad in a Caltech MOOC, Part 3

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

[Note: Harry, who holds a BS in chemistry from the California Institute of Techology and a PhD in analytical chemistry from Columbia University, is sharing his first MOOC experience in this series. See part 1, 2, 4 and 5. -Editor]

November 2, 2013

The discussions should play a larger role, but I have found them to be unsatisfying. Either they’re about esoterica or trivia. Perhaps, I’m too pragmatic for this course. It’s not just about the course; it’s also about the students. It’s clear that not all students and courses go together.

I think that I’ve already gained the most important insights into machine learning from this course, how to know whether a given situation lends itself to this valuable tool. Completing the course will expand the machine learning options and my depth of understanding of how to use them.

Last week, I didn’t have the time to visit the discussion groups. This week, I don’t feel the necessity but may do so just to see what’s going on.

November 4, 2013

As I work on the fifth homework assignment, I’m not sure whether I’ve become smarter or the homework has become easier. Last week was very hurried, and I stumbled badly. This week went along nicely. There’s still plenty of mathematics, more than you might imagine, but the concepts seem more manageable.

When I began, I only knew a bit about this field from my days as a university professor when a colleague published papers about machine learning used to identify compounds in gas chromatograph tracings and spectroscopy. It was a promising area then.

Continue reading

A Caltech Grad in a Caltech MOOC, Part 2

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

[Note: Harry, who holds a BS in chemistry from the California Institute of Techology and a PhD in analytical chemistry from Columbia University, is sharing his first MOOC experience in this series. See part 1, 3, 4 and 5. -Editor]

October 19, 2013

The third week of this MOOC unveiled to me a problem with MOOCs. Not every student is a “student.” I am not really a student. I have conflicting priorities that few students have. Sure, some have jobs and family responsibilities. Generally speaking, they can leave their jobs behind when they leave their jobs.

As an entrepreneur, I am “on call” 24/7. I have to “steal” a few hours a week for this MOOC. I have a goal that may help my business — or may not. The MOOC has to be a low priority. I have no way of knowing when I can watch the lectures or do the homework beforehand.

If you cannot set aside a definite and adequate number of hours every week, you may not be able to achieve all you wish with your MOOC.

This has been a very busy week. I already have two full days committed next week. By full, I mean from arising to falling asleep, not a mere 8 or 9 or 10 hours. There will be not a minute for MOOCs.

Last week, I managed 8/10 on my homework due to not paying attention when I encoded my answers as (a) through (e). This week I paid attention to that but did not have time to analyze my answers as fully as I would have liked. Instead of the recommended ten hours spent on homework, I spent about one. My 7/10 on the homework reflected this less deep thinking.

One problem I missed had me determine the largest number of points that can be shattered by a planar triangle learning model. I really thought that I understood this problem but clearly did not. I don’t really have the time to figure out why.

The last problem in the set required finding the growth function for a planar annulus training model. I was able to find the answer quite nicely and got it right.

The good part about this homework is that I did not have to write any software. The two previous homework sets required considerable amounts of programming. You could make a mistake in understanding or in coding. Having two modes of error made the exercises more stressful than usual.  Continue reading

A Caltech Grad in a Caltech MOOC

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

[Note: Harry, who holds a BS in chemistry from the California Institute of Techology and a PhD in analytical chemistry from Columbia University, has been sharing his first MOOC experience as comments to Jim’s “Technology in Higher Ed: We Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” (10/3/13), but they’ve quickly grown into a series that we’ll be publishing on a loose schedule. See part 2, 3, 4 and 5. -Editor]

October 3, 2013

Future MOOCs may or may not be termed “MOOCs.” Things are reaching the point where small operations may change the world. Just look at the impact that Salman Khan had on education.

The Kepler project in Rwanda is an example of being a bit more creative by taking MOOCs and combining them with in-person teachers to deliver high-quality education. After all, they’re free!

How this resource comes to be used will affect how it evolves.

Another factor will be adaptive learning options and more interactivity.

Opening screen for "Lecture 1: The Learning Problem Free," from Caltech Professor Yaser Abu-Mostaf's free introductory Machine Learning online course (MOOC).

Opening screen for “Lecture 1: The Learning Problem,” from Caltech Professor Yaser Abu-Mostaf’s free introductory Machine Learning online course (MOOC).

I’m currently taking my first MOOC, given by my alma mater, just to learn something new (machine learning — haha) and learn about MOOCs first-hand. So far, it’s nothing very exciting, but I haven’t bothered with any of the discussion group stuff because I just don’t have time for it. I may not have time to complete the course, but at least I’ll have learned SOMETHING and experienced it.

October 6, 2013

Follow up on my MOOC — I handed in the first homework assignment. I tried to do the last problem (requiring writing software) the hard way (by quantitative analysis) and decided that it would just take too long and settled for an alternative approach (Monte Carlo method), which only took a few minutes to program and run.

Professor Yaser Abu-Mostafa

Professor Yaser Abu-Mostafa

My first homework grade = 10/10. I took a look at the discussion group after I finished my homework to see what sort of questions and answers were being posted. I guess I’m rather biased from having been a Caltech student and having done essentially all homework solo. I think figuring out how to do it is as important (maybe more so) than doing it.  Continue reading

Technology in Higher Ed: We Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

Technology is increasingly dividing the academy, but this is a natural pattern in change. Most HE institutions fail to grasp that disruption is an outside force that creates a whole new population of students. This oversight or denial leaves colleges and universities fighting to defend its traditional practices — but they’re battling a strawman.

The real “enemy,” if you will, is a whole new way (MOOCs) to reach the world’s nontraditional student population. MOOCs aren’t aimed at traditional college students, but many traditional students are exploring the benefits of MOOCs and some institutions are exploring MOOC-like courses for their students.

The leadership in MOOC development and deployment is increasingly shifting to other parts of the world where HE has been a pipe dream for the masses. In the US, it is also shifting, on little cat feet, to small groups or departments in lesser-known colleges and universities with staff who understand and are exploring the potential of MOOCs. These garage and bootstrap operations are where change is being forged, and it will be interesting to see, in the coming months (not years), where this will take us.

We’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of technology-driven changes to come in HE. On our campuses, we need to take our eyes off the little islands that we call home and look beyond our shores to the vast ocean of possibilities. If we think we’ve witnessed change, we have another think coming. We ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

MOOCs Outside of Mainstream U.S. Higher Ed (updated 10/20/13):

China MOOC: xuetangX, accessed 10/20/13.

Tim Johnson, “Online education inspires eager students in Latin America,” CSM, 10/4/13.

MOOCs take off in Rwanda: Accreditation, sustainability and quality issues,” Institute of Learning Innovation, 10/1/13.

Carolyn Fox, “Higher, open education for India,” Open Source, 8/29/13. \

Hiep Pham, “Research chemist launches Vietnam’s first MOOCs site,” University World News, 9/21/13., 2013: “Higher Education MOOCs“; “K – 12 MOOCs“; “MOOCsNews© on Credits, Certificates, Degrees, Career Services, Job Placement and other related subjects.”

SPOCs Are MOOC Game Changers

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

They’re billed as SPOCs, or small private online courses, and they’re being led by Harvard and UC-Berkeley. According to Rob Lue1, Harvard’s edX director, “We’re already in a post-Mooc era,”2 and SPOCs are the next generation. Considering the specs on SPOCs, however, SOOC3 — for selective open online course — may be a better fit for what appears to be a strong candidate for nextgen status. The problem with the moniker is that SPOCs aren’t always private.

Rob Lue, director of HarvardX.

Rob Lue, Harvard’s edX director.

For example, on the one hand, one of the two new HarvardX SPOCs this fall is GSD1.1x: The Architectural Imaginary. It is closed and private, and available “only to incoming Design School students.” However, it “may be opened up to the broader public at a later date.” On the other hand, HarvardX’s first SPOC, HLS1x: Copyright, in spring 2013, was open and selective: “Law School professor William W. Fisher, III, and his teaching staff chose from 4,100 applicants worldwide to form the 500-student online class.”4

SPOCs are MOOCs with fixed enrollments.5 However, beyond this general characteristic, there are two distinct types: private and selective. The former are, for all practical purposes, indistinguishable from traditional online courses. The real innovation is in the latter — selective. Anyone can apply, but acceptance is selective to limit enrollment. Thus, SOOC is probably a better fit for the Harvard-Berkeley nextgen MOOC.

SOOC numbers are smaller, but they’re still potentially massive in comparison to traditional onground courses. Coughlan describes them as “still free and delivered through the internet, but access is restricted to much smaller numbers, tens or hundreds, rather than tens of thousands.”

The selection factor in SOOCs is a game changer. Selectivity addresses three critical problems that have plagued MOOCs from day one: low levels of active participation, low retention rates, and variable student backgrounds. By limiting enrollment to selected students, SOOCs have the potential to become serious and effective online learning platforms that retain the MOOC’s magic of massive, open, and online.

As the ratio between staff and student numbers diverge, interaction remains an issue and reliance shifts to peer-to-peer support for feedback and guidance. However, when those with insufficient background knowledge, skills, and motivation are factored out, peer support systems may have a strong potential for success. Thus, selectivity may be the second generation answer to the MOOC’s current woes.

SOOCs open up a whole new dimension of possibilities for MOOCs. For example, a variation on selecting students up front may be to allow students to self-select in via performance in the first few weeks of a course. In other words, all students are accepted in the beginning, but only those who participate actively and at a given level — determined by staff or peers using rubrics — will be retained. This would amount to a two-stage enrollment process that’s initially open but becomes progressively selective in the first phase of the course.

Regardless of what they’re called — SPOCs, SOOCs, or something else — incorporating selectivity into the MOOC design is brilliant.
1 “Robert Lue . . . Director Life Sciences Education and Professor of the Practice in the Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB) department, directs Harvard’s edX – dubbed HarvardX” (Cathryn Delude, “edX, Transforming the Future of Education,” MCB, 11/29/12).

2 Sean Coughlan, “Harvard Plans to Boldly Go with ‘Spocs’,” BBC News, 9/24/13.

3 The acronym SOOC has been used by others, e.g., Heather M. Ross in “Instead of a MOOC, How About a SOOC?” (Educatus, 10/29/12) and Michael K. Clifford in “SOOC Challenges MOOC Muddle” (DreamDegree, 7/2/13). For Ross, it stood for small open online course; for Clifford, strategic open online courses.

4 Madeline R. Conway, “HarvardX’s New Fall Offerings to Include Two SPOCs,” Harvard Crimson, 6/21/13.

5 Dev A. Patel, “Law School Debuts First Online Course,” Harvard Crimson, 1/31/13.

MOOC MOOC! The interview

By Jessica Knott
Associate Editor
Editor, Twitter/Facebook

nowthats160Rarely does a MOOC strike fear into the heart of its participants. Interestingly, in this case I mean the MOOC itself, not the content. MOOC MOOC, a MOOC about MOOCs (MOOC! Sorry, I just wanted to say it once more, as I didn’t feel I had worked enough instances of the word MOOC into the sentence) offered challenges and learning, exploring the MOOC phenomenon in an interesting, creative way.

MOOC MOOC has been offered three times by Jesse Stommel, Founder and director of Hybrid Pedagogy, and Sean Michael Morris, managing editor and coordinator of Educational Outreach for Hybrid Pedagogy. Jesse is also an assistant professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison and an advocate for lifelong learning and the public digital humanities. Sean calls himself a digital agnostic and a contemplative pedagogue. He is also a creative writer and a former community college English department chair. MOOC MOOC has been offered three times: in August 2012, January 2013, and June 2013.

Please cross your fingers as I conduct this interview, and hope the MOOC MOOC does not eat me alive. Here we go…


1. What is a MOOC MOOC?

JESSE: A MOOC MOOC is a mostly amiable beast. He looks a lot like a cave troll but with altogether more charm and less menace. He’s misunderstood, only mean from a certain angle, but also clever. He eats MOOCs, disruptive innovation, and venture capitalists for breakfast. He has been known to cuddle a Twitter pal on occasion, which usually involves copious amounts of slobber.

Jesse Stommel

Jesse Stommel

MOOC MOOC: [eyes his dad suspiciously]

JESSE: MOOC MOOC is also a massive open online course about massive open online courses, a mini-micro-meta-MOOC that refuses to take the MOOC at face value, choosing instead to approach it as a sandbox for exploring nodal learning, participant pedagogy, and the course as container.  Continue reading

MOOC Looks: Zombies and Sober Reality

Articles Cited:

Carmel DeAmicis,  “The Walking Dead Online Class: Are Zombies the MOOC Future?“, PandoDaily, 4 Sep. 2013.

Keith Devlin, “MOOC Mania Meets the Sober Reality of Education,” Huff Post: The Blog, 19 Aug. 2013.

MOOCulus for Calculus Fun: An Interview with Tom Evans

By Jessica Knott
Associate Editor
Editor, Twitter/Facebook

nowthats160With all the news and debate surrounding MOOCs, I have been looking for examples of people breaking the mold. In this, the first installment of Now That’s What I Call MOOC (bear with me, we probably won’t get to installment 73 like the CDs), we visit with Tom Evans of Ohio State University, discussing MOOCulus, platforms, student response, and more.

What is MOOCulus?

MOOCulus is an online platform, developed at Ohio State, to provide students a place to go to practice Calculus problems. The key to learning Calculus is to do problems, tons of problems. Over and over and over and over…


Our MOOC platform provider, Coursera, didn’t offer an engaging method for students to simply practice problems so we built MOOCulus to provide that opportunity for Calculus fun!

How was it developed and on what platform? Tell me a little bit about the tool itself and how students have responded to it.

Jim Fowler, Ohio State University

Jim Fowler, Ohio State University

MOOCulus was developed by Jim Fowler, a Math lecturer in our Math department at Ohio State. He and his team used Ruby on Rails to build the platform, which we host locally on campus. He initially used the Khan Academy as underlying framework to build the practice problems in MOOCulus and is working on branching out from that to build truly randomized practice problems that progress in difficulty as students master content. As they answer questions correctly, the progress bar moves to the right and turns green; as they miss questions, the progress bar begins to move to the left and turns red.

Continue reading

MIT LINC 2013: ‘Consistent but Stupid’

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

[Updated 6 July 2013]

I attended the June 17 LINC 20131 morning and afternoon sessions via webcasts: the afternoon session live and the morning session on demand on July 32. I was especially interested in the morning session, “Four Perspectives on MOOCs,” featuring keynote addresses by Sanjay Sarma, director of MITx and the MIT Office of Digital Learning; Sir John Daniel, former president of The Open University (UK) and of the Commonwealth of Learning; Anant Agarwal, president of edX; and Tony Bates, research associate with Contact North, Ontario’s Distance Education and Training Network.

I expected some courteous differences of opinion but hoped for some heat. For most of the 3-hour 50-minute (3:49:44) session, I got what I expected, gracious statements of differences but no direct confrontations. Then, as the end of the open panel discussion drew near, at the 3:22:54 mark in the video, Dan Hastings, MIT Dean for Undergraduate Education and panel chair, said, “I’m going to insert a question from the Twitter feed, which is, will MOOC certification soon become meaningful educational currency?”

This was the spark, and what followed was a brief clash that lit up the issue of academic legitimacy for MOOCs that all were very careful to dance around throughout the discussion. The question, in this case, was: If a student, who has not been admitted to MIT, successfully completes the MOOC version of an MIT course at a distance, shouldn’t s/he receive academic credit that could count toward an MIT degree?

The 3:42 video below captures the exchanges among the panelists.

Agarwal was the first to respond, followed by an exchange between Daniel and Sarma, pictured in the video. Daniel said, “I think there’s still a fundamental question of intellectual honesty. I like the idea of the two funnels [hard in, easy out vs. easy in, hard out] but there’s nevertheless a disconnect in that one funnel [F2F MIT course] leads you to a degree and the other [MOOC equivalent of the course] leads you to a certificate.” He then asked about the 15-year-old high school student in Mongolia who aced Agarwal’s MOOC and will be entering MIT in the fall: Will he receive credit for the course or will he have to take it all over again?

Sarma replied that the Mongolian student would not receive MIT credit for the MOOC course, and Daniel replied, “At least you’re consistent, even if it’s stupid.”  Continue reading

MOOCs, Ted Underwood, CALL Overview, netTrekker, Special Needs, Language Learning


Report: Four in 10 colleges to offer MOOCs by 2016 by Denny Carter in eCampus News

Despite disadvantages, such as cost, credit issues, and some “high profile rejections” of them, MOOCs are still on the rise.

Ted Underwood

Ted Underwood

Computer Research Project Shows Shift in English Language in R&D

Ted Underwood, at the University of Illinois, has used digital mining software, data from Google books, and to track how the English language has shifted over the centuries.

CALL Overview: Technology Tools From the Convention by Justin Shewell and Roger Drury in TESOL Connections

The authors give an overview of technology related presentations at the recent convention. Topics range from using various kinds of mobile technology to webinars.

Focusing Web Searches for K-12 Students by Bridget McCrea in THE Journal

So much information, so little time, and not always appropriate for schoolchildren. This article looks at a search engine, netTrekker Search, a subscription service designed for schools.

How Technology Is Helping Special-Needs Students Excel by Heather Hayes in EdTech: Focus on K-12

Innovations in technology can help students with special needs develop more independence and improve their ability to integrate better into the mainstream classroom with their peers.

EdTech photo by Deanne Fitzmaurice

EdTech photo by Deanne Fitzmaurice

Are Language Teachers Leading the Way with Education Technology? By Joe Dale in The Guardian

Dale looks at how foreign language teachers embrace technology for giving their students authentic experiences with language learning, everything from social networking to video conferencing.

What Are MOOCs Anyway and Should You Consider Moocing?

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

[Updated 10/27/13: see footnote 1.]

If we can get past the magic of “massive” and “free,” we begin to see Coursera/edX-type MOOCs for what they really are — online courses, no different from the ones your college or university is offering right now. Open up registration to anyone anywhere, don’t charge a fee, and you’re MOOCing.

The MOOCs that we’re now associating with Stanford, Harvard, and MIT are actually based on video lectures, and this alone should give us a hint as to why they’re being embraced by so many higher ed institutions. In a very real sense, it’s like having your cake and eating it, too. You can serve a theoretically infinite number of students with a single course featuring lectures by a single instructor. And the best part is, you don’t need to provide prohibitively costly infrastructure for the course. Digitize the lectures in video, store them somewhere, post links, and you’re good to go — as far as content goes.

Besides content, the basic foundation of any course is learning strategy, or a process (“instruction”) that’s designed to help students achieve course objectives. For MOOCs, traditional classroom approaches become less effective as the teacher-to-student ratio (1:X) climbs in disproportion. Simply put, when X reaches a certain point, methodology must change.

The change of least resistance is peer facilitation. Nothing new, really. Teachers, especially in writing, have been using peer feeedback strategies for decades. Results are mixed, as can be expected, depending on any number of variations in instructional quality. Still, when done right, students can learn to provide effective feedback on their classmates’ performance. The key is in the rubrics.

In courses with enrollments so massive that a teacher is unable to monitor student mastery (understanding and application) of rubrics, relatively “simple” technical innovations are needed to ensure quality peer feedback. I say “simple” because we already have the technology to automatically gather, integrate, and report data from and across a wide range of different online activities. For example, students can be quizzed on their understanding of rubrics, and the result could be used in different contexts, e.g., to rate their comments on the quality of their classmates’ work1. With this rating, authors would be able to determine how much weight to assign reviews received from classmates. A low rating would mean the critic doesn’t have a clue about the requirements for a particular assignment.  Continue reading

The MOOC, ‘an Incubator for Great Ideas’: A Personal Experience

Niall Watts

Niall Watts

By Niall Watts


I have recently completed Stanford University’s Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), ‘Designing a New Learning Environment’. As an educational technologist, I try to keep abreast of developments in the ever‑changing world of technology. I had been reading a lot about the transformative potential of MOOCs and was keen to try one out for myself. I am always sceptical about claims of ‘reinventing education’, ‘the end of universities as we know them’ or ‘the biggest innovation to happen in education for 200 years’. I chose ‘Designing a New Learning Environment’, as it seemed like an interesting topic – one of which I already had considerable experience but where there is always something new to learn. Stanford’s reputation was also a factor.

Stanford Online: Designing a New Learning Environment

Stanford Online: Designing a New Learning Environment

A ten-week course where I should spend 1-3 hours per week on course activities seemed a manageable commitment. For the first five weeks, I completed individual assignments. The second half of the course was devoted to an ambitious team assignment where teams took up the challenge of designing a new learning environment.

Teams – the Good, the Bad & the Ugly

I took my time before joining a team, as I did not have a project of my own. I wanted a team with a broad mix of participants where I could contribute. I was also expecting my progress in the course to lead me towards a team or topic. This did not happen. Finally, while browsing through the list of teams, I chose the Engagineers, a team of eight interested, as their name suggests, in engagement. They had started a thoughtful discussion in their team journal. Fortunately, this proved to be a very good choice, as once the team got going, we worked well together. None of the team knew each other beforehand, but we still managed to form an effective working relationship. We used familiar tools such as Skype and email as effective and reliable means of communication.

Continue reading

Whither MOOCs in 2013?

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

In 2013, after the hype has settled and the glitter has dulled, we’ll have a clearer understanding of MOOCs and what they mean for higher ed. As 2012 comes to a close, we’re beginning to see glimpses of a growing awareness that Coursera, edX and similar platforms are basically crude constructs that attempt to push traditional practices into the virtual learning environment. As aggregates of new and old technology, they are, at best, makeshift hybrids that don’t quite fit into the new world of online education.

Carole Cadwalladr, Observer (UK) feature writer, took a Coursera course and included her experience in “Do Online Courses Spell the End for the Traditional University?” (Observer, 11.10.12). Her initial impression is, “They’re just videos of lectures, really.” Later, she shares her amazement at the level of interaction and instructor participation in live forums. However, her initial comment, that they are basically videos of lectures, resonates.

cadwalladr_crema 280

Max Crema, a student at Edinburgh University, reaches the same conclusion. In his interview with Cadwalladr, he tells her that “he’s already used online lectures from MIT to supplement his course.” And “the problem with lectures,” he reminds us, “is that they are about 300 years out of date. They date back to the time when universities only had one book. That’s why you still have academic positions called readers.” Crema’s stark observation of the relationship between videos, books, and lectures underscores the fact that all three are more similar than different and share common ground as modes of presentation.   Continue reading

TIME 2012 Person of the Year – MOOC

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

[Updated 12.4.12: criterion added.]

It’s that time of the year when we begin to wonder who or what will be the Time 2012 person of the year. Keep in mind that the criterion is “the person who most influenced the news this year for better or worse.”

My heart says Pussy Riot.


My eyes and ears say PSY.


But I can’t ignore the elephant in the room.




CFHE 2012 Impressions: My Bumpy Start to a MOOC on Future Trends in Higher Ed – ‘505 Unread Discussion Messages’

By Stefanie Panke
Editor, Social Software in Education

The Massive Open Online Course Edfuture 2012 (CFHE 2012, Current/Future State of Higher Education: An Open Online Course) started on October 8 and will be running for six consecutive weeks. Since I am currently working on an article about future trends in educational technology, I was very excited to learn about the course and plan to participate as intensively and regularly as my schedule allows.

Getting Started

Unsurprisingly, the last week has been busy at work, and after a brief review of the reading material on Monday, I “skipped class” for the remainder of the weekly MOOC format. Checking back in on Friday only to get ambushed by “505 Unread Discussion Messages” that had secretly been piling up in the course forums, left me disheartened for a second. As usual, it pays to take a deep breath and a closer look at the MOOC’s course activities.

The majority of messages were personal introductions (441); about 65 dealt with the reading material of week one. The discussion threads covered various topics from sustainability and diversity of open education to the costs of higher education and international trends. I did not engage in any particular topic. Instead, I drifted through the threads in a serendipitous fashion and enjoyed listening in to different conversations. Here are my favorite quotes of the week:

I’m not participating in this MOOC to compare apples and oranges (bricks and bytes); I’m here to imagine ways we can be present to each other across time and distance. (Joe Moses, Oct. 9)

I personally have taken courses in Udacity and [they] are among the best courses I ever had. (William Colmenares, Oct. 9)

Continue reading