April 8, 2013, 4:57 am
Philadelphia — Massive open online courses have gained renown among academics for their impressive enrollment figures and, conversely, their unimpressive completion rates.
What accounts for the high attrition in MOOCs, and what does it mean? Coursera and data researchers at several partner universities of the MOOC provider have begun trying to answer those questions by learning more about why students wash out of MOOCs—and what instructors and course designers could do to stem the tide.
Some of that research was on display over the weekend at Coursera’s first-ever partners’ conference, where MOOC professors, instructional designers, and various invited guests spent two days talking shop.
The data so far are preliminary. But the company believes that the low completion rates in its early courses should not be read—as many critics have done—as an indictment of the MOOC…
February 18, 2013, 4:56 am
Students regularly drop out of massive open online courses before they come to term. For a professor to drop out is less common.
But that is what happened on Saturday in “Microeconomics for Managers,” a MOOC offered by the University of California at Irvine through Coursera. Richard A. McKenzie, an emeritus professor of enterprise and society at the university’s business school, sent a note to his students announcing that he would no longer be teaching the course, which was about to enter its fifth week.
“Because of disagreements over how to best conduct this course, I’ve agreed to disengage from it, with regret,” Mr. McKenzie wrote.
Mr. McKenzie’s departure marks the second debacle for Coursera this month. Another of the company’s courses, “Fundamentals of Online Education,” was suspended indefinitely after technical and design issues made it too dysfunctional to continue. That…
February 11, 2013, 4:55 am
Washington — Scholarly publishers that want to flourish in the 21st century can’t just keep producing content and selling it to customers. They have to understand how those “end users” work and come up with solutions to help them do their work better.
That advice dominated the annual meeting of the Association of American Publishers’ Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division, which concluded here on Friday. The meeting brings together commercial academic publishers, including Elsevier and John Wiley & Sons, some of the larger university presses, and scholarly associations with significant publishing programs, like the American Chemical Society and the American Psychological Association.
“If we’re going to sustain ourselves, we can’t just continue to take what our authors deliver to us and provide publishing services,” Steve Smith, Wiley’s president and chief executive…
January 9, 2013, 5:00 am
How is a major provider of free online courses going to tell whether you are who you say you are? By how you type.
The company, Coursera, plans to announce on Wednesday the start of a pilot project to check the identities of its students and offer “verified certificates” of completion, for a fee. A key part of that validation process will involve what Coursera officials call “keystroke biometrics”—analyzing each user’s pattern and rhythm of typing to serve as a kind of fingerprint.
The company has long said that it planned to bring in revenue by charging a fee to students who complete courses and want to prove that achievement. And Coursera has long recognized that its biggest challenge would be setting up a system to check identity. Other providers of free online courses, which are often called massive open online courses, or MOOCs, have decided to work with testing centers and …
November 14, 2012, 2:29 pm
Disaster plans used to seem like “kind of a bother” to Lance D. Query, Tulane University’s director of libraries. Then, in 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, flooding Tulane’s Howard-Tilton Memorial Library with more than eight feet of water. “I look at them much more carefully now,” says Mr. Query.
In late October, New York University’s Langone Medical Center and its Ehrman Medical Library suffered major damage from Hurricane Sandy, and a number of other institutions in the New York-New Jersey area also took a major blow. Mr. Query has some hard-won advice and words of encouragement for libraries trying to recover from Sandy or other disasters, and for those reviewing their disaster-response plans.
Turn a crisis into an opportunity. If affected libraries “play their cards right” and use insurance and FEMA resources effectively, they may emerge stronger than before, he says. …
November 3, 2012, 5:00 am
Sometimes free costs too much. As of January 1, 2013, Flat World Knowledge, which used to describe itself as the world’s largest publisher of free and open textbooks online, will no longer offer content at no charge.
Cost partly motivated the decision, according to Jeff Shelstad, the company’s co-founder and chief executive officer. “We’ve got to be smart with the limited capital that we have” if the company is to survive 10 years from now, he said.
There’s also “an element of fairness” behind the move, Mr. Shelstad said. Some institutional partners have been paying as much as $20 to $25 per student for access to Flat World content, while other partners pay far less. The goal is to even things out while remaining affordable, according to Mr. Shelstad. “We have anchored ourselves around affordability, and we are still there with this move,” he said.
The company’s model allows…
October 16, 2012, 8:53 pm
Pearson, a publishing and education company whose products include books, newspapers, and online services, announced a major acquisition on Tuesday that will deepen its commitment to becoming a major player in online education.
The company, which owns the Financial Times and the Penguin Group book publisher, shelled out $650-million in cash to buy EmbanetCompass, a business that provides support services to colleges and universities that are moving their programs online.
The announcement came on the heels of Pearson’s move last year to start a free, cloud-based learning-management system called OpenClass.
And it came less than a year after Pearson teamed up with a software company called Knewton to replace some of its software packages with programs that adapt to each learner with interactive tutors, quizzes, and explanatory videos.
“Pearson is deepening its bet on the…
October 11, 2012, 9:20 pm
Orlando, Fla. — A longtime online-learning pioneer sounded a note of frustration at a national cyberlearning conference here this week. The complaint was over the perception that MOOC’s, or massive open online courses, run by highly selective universities are the biggest drivers of innovation in online learning.
“The hyper-prestigious universities” are not driving the change, said Jack M. Wilson, president emeritus of the University of Massachusetts, who founded UMass Online some 10 years ago, in remarks during a kickoff panel at the Sloan Consortium’s International Conference on Online Learning. He said that institutions like his and others represented at the conference, which is in its 18th year, have been slowly improving the quality, credibility, and enrollment of online courses for decades.
Mr. Wilson suggested that some new providers appeared to think they’d invented…
October 3, 2012, 2:44 pm
Australia has two main agencies that hand out government research money: the National Health and Medical Research Council, or NHMRC, and the Australian Research Council, or ARC. Aidan Byrne, a nuclear physicist, became the ARC’s chief executive in July. Although he’s still “finding his feet” in the job, he says, Mr. Byrne has made it an early priority to broaden access to government-supported research in Australia. The Chronicle spoke with him by phone about how that effort is shaping up.
Q. In July you told the Australian newspaper that you have a “particular interest” in open access. Why is that?
A. I’ve been working in academic life for nearly 30 years, and I’m a firm believer in disseminating information in the most effective way. I think open access has shown that it can do that very, very effectively. … Earlier this year, the National Heath and Medical Research…