All Posts Tagged With: "online education"
A Waterloo start-up provides courses on smartphones
To hear Dean Pacey describe online learning is a lesson in how the Internet—despite its vastness—can actually be a very personal place. In fact, taking courses over a computer, he believes, has the potential to make education more intimate and effective than any typical class-teacher setting, which is often full of distractions.
“When I go to university and I sign up for psych 100, I’m sitting with 1,500 other students with one talking head who I can’t hear and who may or may not speak English well at the front of the room,” he says. “How is that a rich experience?”
By comparison, Pacey imagines a world in which students in any country can pick and choose the courses they’d like to take over the Internet from the best international schools, many of which are in Canada. These courses would feature video lectures, online chats and news feeds related to the content, and would be delivered in whatever language the student preferred. Even more surprising: while the course content could be viewed on a computer screen or tablet, it would be designed, first and foremost, for smartphones—making the “classroom” entirely mobile and available anytime, anywhere.
Statistics students perform as well in “blended” versions
A study that Inside Higher Education writer Steve Kolowich calls the largest and possibly most rigorous to date suggests “blended” or “hybrid” learning is at least as effective—possibly more effective—than traditional university courses with three hours weekly of face-time with professors.
Blended learning is when some lecture time is replaced with online lessons. There is evidence that it can save universities substantial amounts of money on instructors and buildings, but many academics are hesitant, in part because tech-heavy courses are viewed as low quality.
That’s what makes this study so important. It shows that blended courses—at least the ones tested here—work well. William G. Bowen, the former president of Princeton University and lead author put it this way: “Generalized worries that all kinds of online systems will inevitably hurt learning outcomes do not appear to be well-founded.”
Nearly 300,000 have signed up so far
On Monday nearly 300,000 people received an e-mail containing their first free lesson in computer coding from New York based Codeacademy.
The course is part of their “Code Year” initiative where anybody and everybody is encouraged to make their New Year’s resolution to learn computer programming in 2012. By the end of it, students will be able to build their own apps.
Coding is a valuable skill in today’s economy. The federal government reports that Computer Programmers and Interactive Media Developers are in high demand in some Canadian cities, such as Montreal, where their average wage is $34.50 per hour, and Winnipeg where their average wage is $25.47.
Students to finish degrees elsewhere
Meritus University, an online university based out of New Brunswick, will be closing its doors. The school, which specialized in MBA and information technology programs, is no longer admitting new students, nor will current students be offered courses to complete their degrees. “Sadly, despite our best efforts, we have concluded that there is a high risk that enrolment will continue to be insufficient to sustain the required quality academic and student service infrastructure we and our students demand,” read a statement on the university’s website. Meritus says students will be able to continue their programs through the University of Phoenix, or at another institution. Meritus, like Phoenix, is owned by Appollo Group, a for profit education company based out of the United States. The university first launched in 2008.
University experience shouldn’t be spent entirely in front of a computer screen
The increasing use of online education begs the question of whether the traditional lecture is relevant in a sea of digital content. If students could complete all of their university credits online from their homes, without ever stepping onto a campus or out of their sweatpants, why would they choose a traditional path to a university degree?
A student at Athabasca University, which heralds itself as a leader in online and distance education, recently expressed his enthusiasm for his online education experience in the Financial Post, calling it “the way of the future.”
“Athabasca doesn’t even use a fraction of the technology tools available to them. If the government would charter another modern online university, it would be an even more viable option for more students,” Ian Heikoop, a second year student in business management, wrote. He went on to explain that the flexibility of his online courses allows him to run his own business and be more heavily involved in his community.
“You can’t tell me that I’m not getting any experience or working on personal, teamwork, and leadership skills as I study online,” he wrote.
His experience may reflect a growing zeal for online education that doesn’t look like it’s going to slow down. A 2010 report conducted by the Sloan Consortium found that the number of students taking at least one course online rose from 1.6 million in fall 2002 to 5.58 million in fall 2009, according to Inside Higher Education. A survey conducted by the WICHE Cooperative of Educational Technologies also found that 96 percent of the 183 colleges and universities surveyed expected the number of students enrolled in online courses at their institutions to increase in the next three years.
While the convenience of online courses may make educational content more accessible, there is a valuable argument that when students enroll in university, they aren’t paying solely for the content of their lectures, but for the university experience as well. Going to class may be a pain sometimes, but I don’t think sitting in front of a computer screen can compete with the experience of sitting in on a dynamic lecture. Online education also doesn’t give students the opportunity to meet students and instructors they can bounce ideas off of and who can feed their curiosity in a subject. Even if an online course comes equipped with a chat room, it would be hard to measure it up to the colloquial experience of a classroom.
When balanced with traditional forms of teaching, online education does give students a degree of flexibility in their education that past generations never had, as was the case with Heikoop’s experience. However, while some may proclaim that online education is the way of the future, I doubt that most students believe that their university experience would be better spent at home.
There are certain standards that have to be abided to that are not the same standards as you may have for a little convenience store
A private online university based in New Brunswick will close by the end of the year after questions arose about its administration and finances, but the school says the shutdown is unfair. The province’s Department of Post-Secondary Education ordered Lansbridge University to close after three reviews found problems with the school’s operations.
The concerns over Lansbridge date back to December 2007, when a review by the Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission was launched. It found that Lansbridge had failed to meet 10 of 16 benchmarks for post-secondary schools, including dispute resolution, student protection and financial stability. In February 2009, the post-secondary education minister ordered that Lansbridge comply with four conditions: inform its students that it had failed the assessment, address the commission’s concerns, implement a student protection agreement, and pay for a second review.
Rene Boudreau, New Brunswick’s director of post-secondary affairs, says the department did not immediately shut down the school after the first assessment because it believed the university had potential to improve.
Lansbridge underwent the second review, which concluded the school had not made sufficient progress. The department then ordered an investigation conducted by academic governance experts, which confirmed the findings of the first two reviews. The department ordered the school effectively shuttered.
Lansbridge president Ernest Smith did not return calls seeking comment. But in a statement, the school disputed the department’s decision. “We are stunned as to why the (degree-granting) license was revoked. Our programs have been deemed by our students and faculty as above average,” Lansbridge said in a statement. The school said it will prepare a response to the department.
Mireille Duguay, CEO of the commission that carried out the first two reviews, said Lansbridge lacked credibility. “If you’re going to be granting degrees in this province, the institution that will grant those degrees … has to be credible in the pan-Canadian perspective,” she said. “As such, (there) are certain standards that have to be abided to that are not the same standards as you may have for a little convenience store.”
The business school had been offering MBA programs to more than 150 students, most of whom are Canadian.
The Canadian Press
Ontario Online Institute to pose challenges for students
Learning about Socrates through Facebook forums and chatting with a professor through Skype is the reality for students as e-learning claims a more dominant role in higher education.
Ontario is the latest jurisdiction to jump in with plans to launch the province’s first fully online university, and that has educators urging students to weigh their options carefully before deciding to turn their computer into a classroom. “Most people, if given the choice, would still prefer a traditional university,” said Glen Jones, an expert in higher education policy at the Ontario Institute for Education Studies in Toronto.
Related: Who needs a prof?
Jones said sometimes distance from a school, the necessity of full-time jobs and family obligations make going to university impossible. For these reasons, getting a degree online might be an attractive alternative.
But there are also drawbacks.
Sometimes the cost of clicking a mouse can be just as high as attending a university. Then there’s the lack of companionship that can sometimes make e-learning an isolating experience. And will employers value credentials earned online as much as they do those gained in a classroom?
Ontario hasn’t yet provided details on how its proposed Ontario Online Institute will work, saying only that the virtual school will offer e-courses from several universities as the province tries to produce a more educated workforce. “The ministry is working with college and universities to look at what they’re doing that has been really successful and how to improve the current system,” said Annette Phillips, a spokeswoman for the minister of colleges, training and universities.
But there are already several models across Canada and around the world for Ontario to borrow from. The University of Phoenix allows students from across the United States to earn online degrees. In the United Kingdom, Open University combines the traditional format of correspondence learning with online tools. Similarly, Alberta’s Athabasca University focuses solely on correspondence and online learning.
Richard Pinet, head of e-learning at the University of Ottawa, teaches faculty how to incorporate online tools into their classroom. He says academia in the Internet age has evolved dramatically. Pinet has used Skype for his “office hours,” as he meets with students online through the Internet program that allows people to make free video calls.
Another instructor at the university’s faculty of music has used video conferencing and sound recognition to teach a student at home how to play the piano. “The notion of any time, any place kinds of learning–that students can learn at their own pace–is an advantage to a lot of students who work,” said Pinet. “They can do this late at night, early in the morning or in their pyjamas,” he said. “In traditional face-to-face teaching the prof is kind of — I hate to say it — the sage on the stage, and what e-learning does is it looks at the prof like a guide on the side.”
Pinet says students at the University of Ottawa can earn a bachelor of education exclusively online. St. Paul’s University, an affiliate of the school, became one of the first institutions in Canada to offer PhD courses online.
Jones said while online learning is important, especially for students juggling busy lives and families, tuition can still be prohibitive. “People often assume distance education is inexpensive,” said Jones. “It’s not necessarily cheap.” Online learning replicates an in-person experience and programs still need faculty and the technology to deliver the course work.
Pinet said it can also be difficult for students to self-motivate when learning from home. “The other challenge is they have to learn how these online tools work and, if you’re technologically challenged or threatened, that can be a bit of a hurdle to overcome,” said Pinet.
Academics in the field also fear that online education could morph into a gaming-like environment, where instructors have to compete with short attention spans and constantly deliver interactive lessons.
There is also the question about the value of a degree earned exclusively online. Both Pinet and Jones said it’s difficult to assess how an employer would view an online degree, adding if the credential is bestowed by a reputable institution it shouldn’t matter how it was attained. Then again, it would also depend on the subject. “If I had a brain surgeon who took his degree online, I probably wouldn’t want that guy anywhere near me,” said Pinet with a laugh.
The Canadian Press
Students turn to their laptops for free online courses from Ivy League scholars
Last year, I was obliged to take a course as part of my undergraduate political science degree. It was described as political game theory. I was thinking, “Like Russell Crowe doing John Nash in A Beautiful Mind?” But instead I got Victorian Britain and pre-Confederation Canada. As disappointments go, this was roughly equivalent to receiving coal for Christmas. But I needed to make it through the course, so I did what many others have done: I turned to the Internet. There, on a site called Academic Earth, I learned everything I was later tested on from Benjamin Polak, a professor of economics teaching at Yale, whose full course on game theory was videotaped and posted online, complete with worksheets and exams.
I used only Polak’s material for all my assignments and exams. And so I wondered: why was I paying for this class when I got a better education online and for free?
Sites like Academic Earth, Open Culture and iTunes U have immortalized lectures and debates of top academics from Yale, MIT and Harvard in the form of free, downloadable videos and podcasts, easily available on a laptop or iPhone. It’s instant Ivy League for the masses. “It may be a better resource for some students than a textbook,” says Polak, adding that he receives emails responding to his online course from all over the world.
Polak didn’t intend his course to be a substitution for real-life instruction at other universities. But students of general undergraduate courses like Poli 101 can and do turn to online resources like Academic Earth and even Wikipedia to learn much of their classwork. Classmate Geoff Costeloe studied solely for his upper-level political science exam this way. “I didn’t even buy a textbook,” he says.
It’s not just the proliferation of online information that encourages students to abandon their professors—it’s the structure of the classroom. “Clearly, to be effective you need face-to-face interaction and a more intimate environment than lecture halls with 300 to 400 students,” says David Robinson, associate executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers. Robinson says that while university enrolments continue to rise, there isn’t the same increase in the number of professors, which means “we do need to look at the quality of education.”
In the United States, there are similar cracks in the instructional facade. Universities “have an obligation to get their heads out of the sand,” says Julio Ojeda-Zapata, technology journalist for Pioneer Press, publisher of a raft of suburban newspapers in Chicago. He believes academia should adopt an entrepreneurial spirit to equip students with tools that prepare them for the business world. “College campuses are clinging to an archaic method that is being discouraged everywhere else,” he says. “I’m a little concerned about sending my son to an expensive four-year education that may be of little value.”
Some educators are calling for a radical change. Since 2006, Carl Wieman, a Nobel physics laureate, has been working at UBC to reshape science education. Wieman has oriented teaching methods away from memorizing facts—a method that Wieman says was made “obsolete since the printing press”—and toward complex, problem-solving exercises with an expert approach, facilitated by the faculty. “Now, you look in the classes,” he says, “and instead of students sitting there text messaging, falling asleep or not showing up to class, they are engaged.”
Similarly, William Rankin, an associate professor of English at Abilene Christian University, has been a primary mover behind equipping students at the Texas university with iPod Touches and iPhones. The program began in 2008, and now nearly half the student body have the devices. Rankin says teachers, too, are better off for it. The faculty uses the devices to overcome time delays between tests and feedback, get immediate class input, and participate in ongoing online discussions via blogs. “The medieval apprentice model in which people learned in these very personalized ways is exactly the type of learning we can see in this initiative,” says Rankin. “I do think that in the next two or three years you will see a groundswell of these sorts of initiatives.”
So what role is left for the teacher? To be effective, Wieman says, they must be “cognitive coaches” rather than conduits of information. Rankin believes that the change in pedagogy will happen soon. “It’s comparable to the introduction of a light switch,” he adds. “It’s just going to take a while for people to figure out what this looks like and how it works.”
Plus, study finds that online learning beats face-to-face instruction
According to discussion drafts obtained by Inside Higher Ed, a program that would give community colleges and high schools federal funding to create free, online academic courses is currently being finalized by the Obama administration.
The plan would also “provide $9 billion over 10 years to help community colleges develop and improve programs related to preparing students for good jobs, and a $10 billion loan fund (at low or no interest) for community college facilities.”
While a formal announcement could come in the next few weeks, John White, press secretary for the federal education department says he would only discuss the program “when the time is right.”
But according to Inside Higher Ed’s Scott Jaschik, because the federal government would pay for, and subsequently own, the new courses, in addition to setting up a system to assess learning, and creating a college to coordinate these efforts, “the plan could be significant far beyond its dollars.”
“This is so spot-on in terms of what’s needed,” says Curtis Bonk, professor of instructional systems technology at Indiana University at Bloomington and author of the forthcoming novel The World Is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education. He says the impact of bringing free online courses to those who need basic skills and job training could have much more of an impact than free courses from elite universities.
According to the draft materials obtained by Inside Higher Ed, the program would fund development of 20 to 25 “high quality” courses a year, with a mix of high school and community college courses. Preference would be given to “career oriented” courses, and they would be owned by the government and made available to U.S. schools for free.
Courses would be up for competitve selection and would be peer-reviewed, and would work on a variety of technological platforms. (For more on this story, click here.)
In more online-education-related news out of Washington, one study by the U.S. department of education has concluded that online learning has advantages over face-to-face instruction when it comes to both teaching and learning.
The study found that students who took all or part of their instruction online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through face-to-face instruction.
But don’t enroll in online-only classes just yet. The study also concluded that students who took “blended” courses, with a combination of online and face-to-face learning, did the best of all. (For more on this story, click here.)
Stigma on e-degrees down, but watch out for false promises
One way to get an edge in this job market is to earn an advanced degree. Just don’t assume doing it online will be easy. Online master’s programs are often cheaper and more convenient than traditional ones, but they also present challenges.
“You’re home alone and have to motivate yourself. It’s not the same as sitting in a classroom where you have a social support group,” said Michael Lambert, executive director of the Distance Education and Training Council, an accrediting agency based in Washington, D.C.
Online education is nevertheless becoming more widespread. In 2007, more than 3.9 million students took at least one online course, a 12 per cent increase from the previous year. That’s according to the Sloan Consortium, an online education advocacy group.
Regardless of how you earn your degree, remember that it’s not a ticket to six-figure paycheque or job security – consider the slew of MBA casualties on Wall Street in recent months.
But if you think it will give your career a kick, here are a few points to keep in mind.
PICKING A SCHOOL
Many traditional universities also offer online courses. At some schools, such as Duke and Columbia universities, select master’s programs are entirely online.
If you’re not set on getting a degree from a traditional institution, online-only schools can be viable options. For instance the University of Phoenix offers master’s programs in business, education health care and psychology. Other career-focused schools, such as DeVry University, also offer master’s programs online.
Beware of any online outfits promising quick and easy degrees. These so-called schools might ask for US$1,000 or more in tuition and have names that echo those of prestigious universities. Mailing addresses are often P.O. boxes.
“It’s tempting when the economy is tanking and the unemployment rate goes up,” said Alison Southwick of the Better Business Bureau.
If you’re not sure about a school’s credentials, the U.S. Department of Education maintains a database of accredited schools on its website, www.ope.ed.gov/accreditation. You can also check the site of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation at www.chea.org.
Traditional universities generally apply the same admissions standards and deadlines for online students as for everyone else. At online-only schools, admissions are typically on a rolling, monthly basis.
At my university, distance education enrolments have increased by more than 13% in the past year
Online instruction in post-secondary education has equally fervent supporters and detractors. A few semesters back, Academic Matters devoted an entire issue to examining The Ivory Tower in Cyberspace and the unfulfilled promises of educational technologies and e-learning.
At my university, distance education enrolments, a great many of them in online courses, have increased by more than 13% in just the past year alone. The university and provincial Department of Education’s continuing investments in distance education are part of an overall strategy to stabilize enrolment levels, and perhaps grow them, in the face of Newfoundland and Labrador’s declining high school population. However, as in other institutions, the primary driver of the virtualization of education here appears to be the robust, student-driven demand for it.
And faculty, well, today’s Inside Higher Ed takes a look at the place of faculty in virtual higher education:
The current model of higher education was several centuries in the making. That leaves colleges adapting to online learning, a viable option for only about a decade, with a monumental game of catch-up.
As online courses’ popularity continues to rise, many administrators are struggling with a steep learning curve, one whose ultimate end point is far from being determined. Questions such as how such courses should be taught (by adjuncts or full-time faculty?) often depend on institutions’ missions (expand access or generate extra revenue?) and can lead to clashes and tensions between proponents of online learning and those who remain wedded to the traditional classroom.
But it’s often the existing campus faculty that administrators rely on to develop and teach online courses, a reality that informs their approaches to determining who should teach the courses and how they should be compensated. In many cases, the models are relics of outdated distance programs that gradually became the basis for courses offered over the Internet. No two models are exactly alike, but as colleges experiment with ways to keep their faculty happy and their courses high in quality, evidence of some common practices is emerging.