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San Jose State Suspends Collaboration With Udacity 116

Posted by Soulskill
from the much-easier-to-stay-home-and-skip-class-when-you're-already-home dept.
New submitter ulatekh writes "San Jose State University is suspending a highly touted collaboration with online provider Udacity to offer low-cost, for-credit online courses after finding that more than half of the students failed to pass the classes. 'Preliminary results from a spring pilot project found student pass rates of 20% to 44% in remedial math, college-level algebra and elementary statistics courses. In a somewhat more promising outcome, 83% of students completed the classes.'"
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San Jose State Suspends Collaboration With Udacity

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  • You can lead a student to learning, but you can't make them think.... or do the homework.

    • by jopsen (885607) <jopsen@gmail.com> on Friday July 19, 2013 @04:53PM (#44332149) Homepage

      You can lead a student to learning, but you can't make them think.... or do the homework.

      It's not that simple... the story is that getting students into class, etc... i.e. the more traditional educational approaches, leads to more students doing the work required to learn something.

      I often see people bashing about how universities are expensive, and we should all drop out and just follow online courses... i.e. Learn it on our own...
      But this clearly shows that showing up for class, discussion with others and having supervisors expecting things from you is very important.
      Obviously, it should come as no surprise that educating your self, versus showing up for class, that ladder options is easiest and, thus, most likely to succeed.

      Luckily, I'm from a country where education is free... In fact, my living expenses were more or less covered, during the 5 years I just spend taking an MSc in CS.

    • You can lead a student to learning, but you can't make them think.... or do the homework.

      Apparently, ye olde traditional brick and mortar schools at least have an edge on making them do their homework, if not actually think...

      • by hedwards (940851)

        When I was in college, we did very, very little homework. We spent a huge amount of time actually in class discussing things and doing projects, but comparatively very little in terms of homework.

        The point that you're missing is that studying isn't homework or projects. It isn't tests or any one thing. Studying is time spent interacting with the field and learning the nuances of it. And online course pretty much just give you one way of doing it. If that doesn't work for you, or something comes up, then you

  • by Mitreya (579078) <mitreya@gmail . c om> on Friday July 19, 2013 @03:53PM (#44331473)

    In a somewhat more promising outcome, 83% of students completed the classes.

    And 100% of students successfully signed up for the program.

    • Graduation rates (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Firethorn (177587) on Friday July 19, 2013 @03:58PM (#44331535) Homepage Journal

      Well duh, but seeing as how in many areas an 83% completion rate for a high school grade would be considered excellent, I can see why they consider it a positive sign.

      The 20-44% pass rates though, are pretty bad. For any cost-benefit analysis I'd want to know:
      1. How much the courses cost per course per student
      2. Where the students started knowledge wise, and where they ended, on average. Were they barely falling short?
      3. How much time the students had to invest in the course(another expense).

      Still I like the article, it mentions that their trial, while not particularly successful, did give them many areas to investigate for improvement.

      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        Why is that a bad pass rate?

        I took plenty of college classes with such rates, they were designed to filter out people who did not belong there.

        • Re:Graduation rates (Score:5, Informative)

          by fish waffle (179067) on Friday July 19, 2013 @04:13PM (#44331695)
          Remedial math, elementary statistics, and basic algebra are not typically filter courses. In a university context most students who choose to take those courses should be passing.
          • by h4rr4r (612664)

            Have you been to a university lately? Or talked to the average person. Maybe those folks don't belong there at all.

            • by hedwards (940851)

              I currently tutor math, physics, chemistry, computer science, statistics and whatever else people come into our learning center for.

              Some of these people have been out of college for years. Some are there because they had an undiagnosed learning disorder. And the bulk of the remainder are there because the school they went to was stocked with incompetent teachers using an incompetent curriculum.

              If we prevented everybody that needed help in these sorts of areas, we would filter out some of the best and bright

              • Edison was great at stealing other people's work but mediocre at best when it came to actually inventing things himself. Filtering out that parasite could hardly be called a bad thing...
                • by hedwards (940851)

                  Perhaps, but the reality is that he actually moved those technologies forward and made them available. There are a huge number of brilliant ideas born and killed every day by people who can't or won't move them forward. Yes, it is true that he didn't invent the lightbulb, but he did take the previous work and turn it into something that could be used. And his ability to bring together tons of scientists to work on projects was ultimately a huge benefit to society at large.

          • It depends by what you mean by college and how elitist you are.

            A good chunk of what universities do is to retrain middle age students for a new career. Think 30ish year old trying to become a nurse and has not had to touch a math textbook for 15 years. Capable students but they need this as their first step.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by h4rr4r (612664)

              Elitist to expect people to have basic mathematical skills? Is it elitist when I expect the average adult to be able to read and write? How about speak without drooling on themselves? How low do you want the bar?

              • Elitist to expect people to have basic mathematical skills?

                Since when is "college-level algebra" a "basic mathematical skill"? What do you accept as a sufficient qualification for prospective grad students, the Abel Prize?

                • by atom1c (2868995)

                  Elitist to expect people to have basic mathematical skills?

                  Since when is "college-level algebra" a "basic mathematical skill"? What do you accept as a sufficient qualification for prospective grad students, the Abel Prize?

                  When HS-level algebra is getting 75% on a seventh-grade algebra test, and college-level algebra is getting 90% on the same seventh-grade algebra test, then graduate-level algebra is getting a passing grade on undergraduate-level math exams. (And, yes, post-grad algebra should get 90% or higher on any graduate-level exam.)

                  I'm not making these rules... the latest generation of kids are just that much dumber.

                • by Darinbob (1142669)

                  College should be about making students think. They should shake off the ego feeding "everyone is special" BS that they get from high school. If they can't do the most basic of work (remedial math) then I don't want them being my nurses. Maybe they're ok to cut my hair but you don't need a college degree for that. They won't be able to handle their later classes if they can't handle the remedial stuff that should have been taught in high school. It's not hard stuff to get a passing grade in, it just ne

              • No – but elitist do expect that freshmen have glittering high school prep backgrounds – they expect formal training in math, English, etc.

                I know a lot of smart people who come from unconventional backgrounds and lacked a decent high school education. Bad family life, bad high school. Good family but liked weed too much. Whatever. Then something clicks in their 20s or 30s and they hit their stride.

                So no, for somebody starting their education I would not expect them to know algebra. Now, coming ou

                • by hedwards (940851)

                  Exactly, and I work with those people pretty much every day. They're not typically stupid or lazy and they often times don't even have a learning disorder. It's just that they didn't have the access to education that they needed to round out one or two key subjects.

                  I mean, hell, until I took remedial math in college, I thought that I sucked at it. These days, I'm helping other people with it and contemplating becoming a high school math teacher.

        • Because a remedial math class is NOT designed to filter people out.

          And since the College is shutting it down I would speculate that it was because of poor course design, not because of the students. (For the classes described I am assuming they are not getting the best and brightest and were expecting a low pass rate, but maybe something higher than 20 to 44 - and no – I have not RTFA)

        • by The Rizz (1319)

          Why is that a bad pass rate?

          I took plenty of college classes with such rates, they were designed to filter out people who did not belong there.

          Because these weren't "weeding out" types of courses. TFS even says it: They were remedial and entry-level courses.

          • In my days in university we didn't so much have weedout classes, but moreso classes people took for years in a row ... probability and statistics was one of those. Otherwise smart people can become surprisingly stupid when the questions are poised as puzzles about black and white marbles.

      • by Mitreya (579078)

        Well duh, but seeing as how in many areas an 83% completion rate for a high school grade would be considered excellent, I can see why they consider it a positive sign.

        I assume "completion of a high school grade" involves passing a number of required courses to do so

        What would be the definition of completing a course? Not dropping it? Passing it?

        • by Firethorn (177587)

          If they drop out of high school, all the classes for that year would be 'incomplete'. That's a bit different of a standard than pass/fail, but I can understand the mistake. Most of the time 'complete' = 'pass', but for these courses most completed the course(didn't drop out), but still failed it.

      • I'd bet, 39-63% of the class was too lazy to drop out. I bet some forgot they were even in the course.
        • by Firethorn (177587)

          Depends on how they figure 'completed' I guess. I'd use 'did the final' as a measure for 'completed'.

          No final done = didn't complete.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by atom1c (2868995)

          I would disagree with you, but I've taken some MOOCs and forgot about my enrollment 2 months later... then there's an email, "congratulations to all students who submitted their final exam by the deadline!"

      • by gl4ss (559668)

        it's not such a bad rate if it cost pennies to sign up. you could just sign up to check what it is like.

        • by Firethorn (177587)

          If it's like the online classes I've looked at, they might be 'cheap' but that's compared to the multiple hundreds most classes cost. It might 'only' be a couple hundred or so.

          You can't even take most CLEP tests for less than $100 unless somebody else is paying for it.

    • by atom1c (2868995)

      Actually, we don't know if 100% of students successfully signed up; we only know that the 100% represents those who successfully signed up. After all, just like in the real world, there must be consideration for financial aid/support challenges, signed-up deadlines, and whether sufficient offline/off-hours support was made available to students.

      Just because information is available online does not mean that any student can separate the wheat from the chaff -- in terms of understanding basic mathematical co

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      Go team!

    • damn, I figured 101%.

      can I get partial credit?

  • by intermodal (534361) on Friday July 19, 2013 @03:57PM (#44331519) Homepage Journal

    I went back and finished my associates, graduating this past December. If there's one thing I observed, it's that a lot of people passed classes who really shouldn't have. Thanks to treating professors' pass rates as a measure of success, following a syllabus is all you really have to do to pass these days. If online students weren't even putting in that kind of effort, there's nothing an instructor can do for them.

  • by h4rr4r (612664) on Friday July 19, 2013 @04:02PM (#44331575)

    It means the classes were actually properly graded and mean something. If you are passing 80% of folks you are likely teaching no one anything.

    • by Mr. Freeman (933986) on Friday July 19, 2013 @04:25PM (#44331825)
      Not in this case. We're talking about remedial mathematics and elementary statistics here. These are courses that every adult in this entire country should have a firm grasp of. It's absolutely ridiculous that more than 5% of these students are failing these courses.

      This means that we have adults, people in charge of running their own lives, who don't fully comprehend how fractions or percentages work. There are people who are eligible to obtain loans and credit that can't calculate compound interest. It's a fucking miracle that we've managed to come this far while being this ignorant.
      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        You have way too high of expectations of people. I bet less than 30 percent of random Americans would pass such courses.

        If this is news to you, you need to get out more. I am almost certain most people taking such loans cannot calculate compound interest. I bet 50% of adults in this country can't describe it.

        We have folks who think the world is 6000 years old, believe iron age myths over scientific facts and you are surprised they also suck at math?

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by codepigeon (1202896)
        I love your USA centric thinking. I am an avid user of both Udacity and Coursera. I would take a guess that easily 90% of people using these sites are not U.S. citizens.

        That number is more troubling to me than any pass/fail rates. There doesn't seem to be a love of learning in USA.
      • by l2718 (514756)
        Wake up and smell the roses. And then try to fix elementary school. It's practically impossible to repair this damage by the time students reach college (and even highschool is too late).
      • by atom1c (2868995)

        This means that we have adults, people in charge of running their own lives, who don't fully comprehend how fractions or percentages work. There are people who are eligible to obtain loans and credit that can't calculate compound interest. It's a fucking miracle that we've managed to come this far while being this ignorant.

        It's called "financial literacy" and the Great Recession should have taught you one thing: practically nobody on this planet is financially literate. I've come across some pretty dumb financial illiterates folks with post-graduate degrees and positions of authority... and don't know how to tip a waiter or calculate 10% discounts at the mall.

      • most of the population really gives a flying fuck about factions and percentages when most of their income goes to living expenses. I learnt to rebuild outboard and lawn mower motors in high school, like I'm going to remember how to do it 20 years later when I haven't done that since skool.

        • by Darinbob (1142669)

          What's better for society in the long run? To have the majority of citizens with the attitude that it's hard and not necessary, or a majority of citizens who think that learning is important even if it's not every day practical? Do we want citizens that are basically ignorant and let the elites do all the thinking or citizens that can tell when they're being lied to?

      • These are courses that every adult in this entire country should have a firm grasp of.

        But the reality is that they likely don't, and you probably have rote memorization education to thank for it.

    • by turp182 (1020263)

      Actually, most everyone should pass a given class, after freshman year.

      My actuarial education involved stats, calculus, and linear algebra the first year. 1/3 of the students switched majors, most mid-way through the first semester. Too difficult. The pass rate in cut classes can be very high. But this is a good thing,

      The remaining group went on to finish the program. There were occasional D grades, but outright failing was rare and usually involved a change in major. Again, the difficulty of the class

  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Friday July 19, 2013 @04:04PM (#44331593)

    In any online effort, you are going to get a ton of people who sign up, some that follow along the first few weeks, and then a significant dropoff as people move on to other things.

    You cannot apply in-person success rates to online efforts.

    Perhaps what they need to do is organize the classes around micro-classes no longer than two weeks. That way they wouldn't get people just dropping off the grid and actually finishing classes... you could string together a series of such classes to make a whole course. It would also let people jump in at the level they felt comfortable at and not bored.

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      Nor should the quality of the class be measured by a pass rate, at least not as a major metric.

      Then the best class would be one that simply passed anyone and everyone.

    • They measured the rate of people who complete the course separate from the rate of people who passed the course. Over 80% completed the course but only 40% passed.
      • Over 80% completed the course but only 40% passed.

        What do they really mean by "completed" though? I take it to mean 40% of people were too lazy to drop out of the class, or simply didn't want to do homework. Some people just want to learn without needing a yardstick they can show to other people.

  • There seems to be an assumption that just because they didn't pass the class, they failed to anything at all. I'm sure the people who didn't pass knew long before the end that they weren't doing well. The fact most of them stuck with it anyways suggests they still found value in the experience.

  • by IANAAC (692242) on Friday July 19, 2013 @04:09PM (#44331655)
    I don't have any experience with Udacity, but I do have an experience with Coursera that caused me, the student, to shy away from their courses.

    I completed a course through Coursera from the University of Toronto. It was a good course, and I enjoyed it. Learned a lot from the course. In the final week of the course (it wasn't a free-for-all - I had to register for the course and complete it, with tests every week, during and eight week period set but the U of Toronoto), there was an exam that would make up 50 percent of my total grade. Coursera completely fell over that final week, and I wasn't able to gain access to the test until two days after the course deadline. So there went an otherwise good grade. They wouldn't allow any tests to be taken after the deadline, regardless of technical issues.

    I had spent a total of around 40-45 hours with the course, 20 of those hours were video lectures that needed to be watched, the rest was study time. Even though all I would get from the course was a certificate of completion, I felt cheated and like I'd wasted a lot of my time for what was otherwise a good course.

    Would I take another course? Maybe, but I know that if I were studying for transferable college credit, I would have been seriously pissed.

    I wonder how much of the non-pass rate was due to issues other than actual class material in Udacity's case.

    • They'll offer the same course again sooner or later; just take it again next time.
      • by IANAAC (692242)

        They'll offer the same course again sooner or later; just take it again next time.

        Yeah, see, that's the problem right there. That's not the answer. Making sure that technical issues aren't a problem is key for any of these MOOCs to work, whether it's Udacity, Coursera, edX or any other platform, particularly if it's for real, transferable college credit.

        Telling people to "just take it again" because the platform fucked up is just going to drive students elsewhere.

      • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunk_costs [wikipedia.org]

        Regardless of how often they offer the class, he'll never get back the hours he already put in.

      • by khchung (462899)

        They'll offer the same course again sooner or later; just take it again next time.

        "You didn't get your paycheck this month? We will be sending the same check again sooner or later, just cash it next time. Now keep working!"

        Yeah, that will work.

    • by Guru80 (1579277)

      I took a large portion of my classes online several years ago back when online classes were still going through their growing pains so naturally there was all kinds of technical issues that arose. As long as it was on the online class end be it software or servers or any other cause you always got an extra day extension even way back then so I find it ridiculous that a technical problem that was on their end and not yours would just cost you your grade. If I couldn't connect and it was on my end than that

      • by IANAAC (692242)

        If I couldn't connect and it was on my end than that was obviously on me to find a solution either buy fixing my damn connection or going to the computer lab or library.

        I would never take a course anywhere that had that as their policy and if it really is a "if we screw up on our end you still pay" policy they have then shame on anyone giving money to that kind of scummy organization.

        I don't have the link handy at the moment, but the Coursera failure made news in the Canadian press at the time. The course I took wasn't for transferable credit, so I wasn't out any money, just time.

        Regardless, you can't put a failure like that on the student. It rested squarely on the shoulders of Coursera and the U of Toronto for its policies.

    • Even though all I would get from the course was a certificate of completion, I felt cheated and like I'd wasted a lot of my time for what was otherwise a good course.

      Hell, I'm still waiting on my certificate for the Intro to Music Production class I successfully completed 3 months ago...

  • by J Story (30227) on Friday July 19, 2013 @04:13PM (#44331693) Homepage

    Reading between the lines, my guess is that many students thought an online course "inferior" to regular classes, and therefore okay to slack off when doing. Time, however, or time management, may be more the enemy than actual course matter.

    I know a high school student who takes online school courses, and one of the ongoing problems for the parents is getting the student to understand that there are X modules to do and only Y days to do them in. Dividing X by Y means that every two or three days something must be completed and sent in for marking. If this requirement is difficult for a high school student to follow without parental hectoring, then it is entirely understandable that kids only a couple years older, who no longer have their parents to help keep them on track, are going to run into problems.

  • The main reason SJSU (and other schools) are looking at Udacity and its like, is to be able to spend less time and resources on remedial courses for incoming students (the California State Univ system is basically the entry-level university for the state). If Udacity could ensure that a majority of these students pass those courses, then SJSU can focus its efforts on "real" university material.

    They seem to have fallen down on that deliverable, so SJSU really has no option but to toss them, and go back to t

    • A lot of universities already do something similar anyways.

      The University Of Alabama in Huntsville teaches all math courses below Calculus in a computer lab. I'm pretty sure grad students teach those courses too. All they need to do is tape the lectures, and boom instant online course.

      I know it's not really that easy, but quite a few universities really think that way. They have these (horrible) online homework systems for huge classes. So why not just post the videos as well. If the student has a ques

  • by Tough Love (215404) on Friday July 19, 2013 @04:40PM (#44331985)

    They should be happy about 20%+ pass rate, after all the cost of providing the teaching vehicle asymptotically approaches zero.

  • Real "online-learning" education programs are the computer-age equivalent to the old correspondence courses. They are both self-discipline dependent. For the need for self-discipline fewer complete and fewer complete successfully. It is normal.

    Instead of dropping the program they should offer re-take at drastic discount rate, so students may learn from their failures. This is, after all, what the Bar does with its exams, which produce lawyers -- most of them after two or three goes at mastering the mate

    • by atom1c (2868995)

      I'm not sure why you have a Score:0 on this post, but you're absolutely right.

      Studies have continually shown that self-directed online learners technically fail the online courses regardless of their actual competence. Participation rates are in line with rates of participation (apathy) as other civic matters -- like voting, fundraising, volunteering at community events, and even searching for lost pets and persons.

      Flipping the coin, does any grade mean the material was taught well or that students simply

  • by drdanny_orig (585847) on Friday July 19, 2013 @05:00PM (#44332257)
    40 years ago or so, I taught those same remedial classes to freshmen students at a large Midwestern land-grant 4-year university. The only reason my pass rate was higher than 44% was because I felt sorry for the kids. I was then, and am now still considered a good instructor. Most of those students had no business being in college in the first place, and I could tell that few if any would finish regardless of how I graded them. Remember, these are students who were unable to pass the basic requirements coming out of high school. Not representative of the population as a whole. I suspect the "online-edness" of these classes has very little to do with it.
    • by fluffy99 (870997)

      40 years ago or so, I taught those same remedial classes to freshmen students at a large Midwestern land-grant 4-year university. The only reason my pass rate was higher than 44% was because I felt sorry for the kids. I was then, and am now still considered a good instructor. Most of those students had no business being in college in the first place, and I could tell that few if any would finish regardless of how I graded them. Remember, these are students who were unable to pass the basic requirements coming out of high school. Not representative of the population as a whole.
      I suspect the "online-edness" of these classes has very little to do with it.

      Many colleges have lower scholastic requirements for minorities, particularly State Universities who are pressured to have certain admission rates to maintain their funding. Unfortunately this often results in these remedial classes being filled with students who never should have been accepted into the school to begin with. Not saying anything about any particular race or sex, but if you have lower admission standards for a particular group that usually translates to lower graduation rates for that gro

  • I wonder; what's the probability that the class was just very poorly structured/taught?

    I'm guessing it's non-zero; that might help explain the dismal pass rate.

    • by FGT (2741971)
      I took the remedial math class (not for credit) and thought it was fine. Not a fluff class but not super difficult. I find Udacity classes to be more interactive and engaging than some other MOOCs. There was also plenty of help available in the forums if you need it. There may be some fine tuning of the course content that can be done but it doesn't seem to me that it was shoddy. Maybe they'll find that remedial students are not good candidates for completely online classes? Maybe some of them benefit more
      • by FGT (2741971)
        I found the stats for remedial students I mentioned above. It was from a report on the CUNY system. Only 20% of remedially-placed students have advanced to a for-credit class 2 years later. Only 1 in 4 remedially-placed earn any degree after 6 years.
  • by EmperorOfCanada (1332175) on Friday July 19, 2013 @08:18PM (#44333983)
    I sign up for Coursera courses willy nilly. Then I let my schedule at the time the course starts dictate my participation; that along with the apparent quality of the course. So my completion/pass rate is abysmal. Most of the courses I withdraw from look awesome but through no fault of the course it is bye bye for me. Then there is the annoying situation where two awesome but time consuming courses start at the same time. So again through no fault of the course designers it is bye bye.

    Now if I had paid good money and was going to attend a bricks and mortar school course with a very fixed schedule I would make sure to schedule around that.

    So my guess is that this school was spooked by numbers that didn't match up with their existing medium of bums in seats. I also wonder if there are "metrics" that would then make this online course look like a complete dud. I could see a university looking at completion and withdrawal numbers to compare one professor to another. I suspect that the crappy professors just stand out statistically when compared to other professors. So this course may have statistically looked like a professor who would pee on the front row and throw feces at the student out of splashing distance all the while screaming that they can all pick up their F's at the end of class.

    Why they wouldn't look at this as an experiment and let it ride for a while? Basically try it, tweak it, try it, tweak it.

    The other thing that probably killed this course was how much it freaked out the non-researching teaching-only professors.

    My experience with university is that many of the courses are glorified highschool courses with glorified highschool teachers. But then hidden here and there are researchers on the prowl for students who have a future at the graduate levels. More online courses will make the distinction that much clearer when the glorified highschool teachers are basically demoted to online TAs while the real researchers are given the recognition that they are something different; mentors and researchers.
    • I was amused when a medical school professor made a gushing presentation about MOOCs. Then a U of Phoenix professor from the audience, one of those for-profit school, said we've known about issues X,Y,Z for a LONG time. And this is how we solved them. You may have gripes about the business model of for-profit schools. But many of these MOOC startups. But they are arrogantly re-inventing the wheel.

      The good news is however, when done correcting online/MOOCs can been useful.

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