by Stephen Downes
Apr 25, 2015
ASU and edX, Further Thoughts
Inside Higher Ed,
The big news this week is that Arizona Statue University will in effect replace first year studies with MOOCs (that's probably an overstatement, but it will do for now). This article draws out some implications and major underlying issues (these are all quoted from the article):
- Prior learning assessment -- the mechanism by which credit is granted -- is not covered by financial aid.
- there’s nothing stopping someone now from taking a MOOC in a “gen ed” area and then taking a CLEP exam to get credit.
- ASU took a nasty funding cut from the state, and responded by growing its reach (contrast with LSU, which is attempting to survive though massive cuts)
- the edX partnership allows ASU to move failures off-book, thereby keeping its success rates high.
- many of us in higher ed think of it as an ecosystem. ASU may have decided that it’s actually a Hobbesian war of each against all
- the partnership is a desperate attempt to provide something resembling a business model for MOOCs.
In my view, higher education institutions should consider themselves lucky that the MOOCs provided by EdX are replacing first year. There will not be much talk of expanding the model, and the failure rate will we high, Had something like the Connectivist MOOCs and the cooperative approach taken hold, the damage to traditional institutions would have been much greater, as students would have propelled each other to success in spite of, not because of, the institution.
Accreditation Under Fire
Inside Higher Ed,
I can't say I exactly agree with the arguments outlined in this article, but it's important to read and understand this defense of the Byzantine system that is the college accreditation process. Bernard Fryshman offers a spirited argument. "There is wide recognition that relying on these proposed quantitative measures has weakened accreditation, with collateral damage. Thus, colleges that were focused on a financial bottom line rather than on student learning found it easy to produce numbers that satisfied quantitative guidelines, but said little or nothing about the learning taking place." There are two presumptions, of course: first, that the numbers are indeed proxies, and second, that the current process of peer review actually does ensure that learning takes place.
To Get More Students Through College, Give Them Fewer Choices
Anya Kamanetz reviews a new book that makes an old argument. Drawing on the 'paradox of choice', it is argues that college students should be required to select majors and choose from a more limited set of options. Just as people given fewer choices of jam are more likely to buy jam, it is suggested, people given fewer choices in college are more likely to finish college. It's a seductive argument, because it's always tempting to trade freedom for efficiency. But over and above making the trains run on time, what is there to recommend this approach? If the investment in college weren't so risky for students, maybe it wouldn't matter that they got out rather than continue through a less ideal program. The book is Redesigning America's Community Colleges and the authors, three Columbia University education researchers (who no doubt were not streamed when they made their education choices).
MOOCs and Credentialing: A Revolutionary Perspective
There's no shortage of plans to create new educational credentialing currencies. Here's why: "Why don’t we see a mass exodus of students bailing out of colleges and saving themselves tens of thousands of tuition dollars by testing out of their core courses? Simply put, navigating the opaque and Byzantine system of credit transfer rules makes discovering the Higgs-Boson particle look like kindergarten." The problem is that such an environment not only makes currency opaque, it also creates an excellent environment for counterfeiting.
U.S. Students Awful at Evaluating Reliability of Online Science Readings
This is particularly interesting in light of some of the discussions today at OEGlobal arount the topic of digital literacy. Because (to me) what good does digital literacy do for you if you are unable to reason your way out of the most basic scientific fallacy. Some of this stuff is pretty basic. "Forzani found that fewer than 4 percent of students could correctly identify the author of an online information source, evaluate that author's expertise and point of view, and make informed judgments about the overall reliability of the site they were reading." Now having said that, I wonder what standard Forzani uses to assess scientific literacy. It's not clear to me that the community as a whole has a good understanding of critical literacies.
ProctorU Launches Multifactor Online Student Verification
In a world where exams mean everything, the verification of identity is key. ProctorU is the lastest entry into an increasingly crowded field. The mechanism is similar to Coursera's: "the process begins with a live proctor, who views the student via webcam and checks his or her government-issued ID... Ucard then validates the student's identity through a series of questions based on public data records." And then there's "keystroke analysis software" that creates a user profile.
Knewton and HP Introduce Customized, Personalized Print Learning Materials
It's not clear to me that the world needs more print materials. So that part of the story seems a bit backwards. That's the main reason HP is in the story, though, from the look of it. The bit about customized materials looks more forward. It's basically real-time recommendations - "Knewton will consider the student’s past work, analyze the new information and determine useful strategies from the anonymized data of similar students to recommend content that the student should work on next."
10 Bad Common Arguments for College
OK, let's first keep in mind that "the Business Development Director for Praxis, a ten-month program for entrepreneurial learners [and] dropped out of the University of Pennsylvania." The 'ten reasons' include such things as "college is the ideal place to learn" and " College is the best way to guarantee yourself some kind of job." Well, maybe these are overstated. But there's an undercurrent in teh article, I think, as in life, that these would all be really good things were college not so expensive.
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