Editorial by By The LA Times editorial board | http://lat.ms/1aGPBh3
<<Oakland Military Institute junior Ciara Lowry talks about the online math course she is finishing from a computer lab in Oakland, Calif. The courses were offered by San Jose State and Udacity, the online education startup. (Laura A. Oda / MCT / May 31, 2013)
smf: OMI is a charter high school founded by Governor Brown. Ms. Lowery is a high school junior; the SJSU/Unacity program affects high school students.
|RELATED: San Jose State suspends collaboration with online provider |
July 23, 2013, 5:00 a.m. :: The disappointing results from San Jose State's experiment with online courses shouldn't be interpreted to mean that such courses can't help students. But the classes the university offered in collaboration with online provider Udacity were practically a model of how to do online education badly: rushed into existence and sloppily overseen. No one was even aware that some students who had signed up for the classes lacked reliable access to computers. The one thing the college did well was monitor the results of the three pilot courses and call a timeout when failure rates proved unacceptably high.
It's hard to draw conclusions about one of the three courses because it enrolled a mix of students from varied backgrounds, while the comparable classes held on campus enrolled regular San Jose State students. But that wasn't the case for the other two courses, and overall, the results of this much-ballyhooed venture were startlingly bad: At least 74% of students passed the campus-based courses, while no more than 51% passed any of the Udacity courses.
Online courses can have tangible benefits. They overcome the limitations of brick and mortar; theoretically, at least, there is no limit to the number of seats. And they are a boon for working students who need flexibility in their schedules. But a rush to offer them, which Gov. Jerry Brown has been pressing for, would mean higher rates of failure, costing students time and money they can ill afford.
In fact, one of the problems with the pilot program was the haste with which the online courses were created — a result of Brown's direct intervention. They were patched together and did not include an orientation to familiarize students with such information as what kind of equipment they would need. Though they were in necessary math subjects, it's also troubling that one of the factors that went into selecting those particular courses was that Bill Gates wanted math courses. Gates is a supporter of Udacity and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation helped fund the pilot.
Even pilot programs must be carried out with more care. Online courses should be developed thoughtfully, from within the colleges, not as a result of top-down directives from the governor. The subjects that are offered should be based on student demand and faculty analysis of which would work best online. The preferences of even the best-intentioned billionaires should not be part of the equation. Nor should online courses be viewed as major money-savers, as Brown has pitched them. It still takes well-educated people, interacting with those who need an education, to provide high-quality courses, whether that's via the Internet or in a classroom.