A Creative Choice: Using Online Instruction to Help Make College Affordable

My daughter graduated from high school last week. She has her whole life ahead of her—a career, family, and hopefully, college. I worry about college. Even though my husband and I are both more affluent than both of our parents, college for my daughter seems almost out of our reach. Not only has college costs skyrocketed, but the job market for graduating college students looks dismal. Making things worse, this week congress worked on a bill that makes college loans variable, an increase in college debt for sure.

In order to help students still obtain a good college education in this waning economy, colleges look at online courses to reach students where they are. With the age of the internet, it is no longer necessary for students to travel to universities to receive a stellar education. Today, students can minimize debt by staying at home to save on dorm costs and other expenses associated with living away from home.

Some institutions and professors worry that the quality of an online course isn’t as good as a face-to-face course. In a Pew Internet study, only 30 percent of the faculty in higher institutions believe online learning is a legitimate method for learning. (Would that be because they have never taken or taught an online course?) On the other hand, a large number of the chief academic officers, almost 70%, think that online learning is critical to their long term strategy. Under the economic hardships students are facing today, I think this strategy displays merit. An online course, designed well, can be just as engaging and promote student learning as well as a face to face class. In fact, a well-thought out online course is often better. I know this to be a fact because I learned so much more in my master’s program, which was fully online, than in my traditional undergraduate education in a brick and mortar school.

Let’s face it, a course can be awful or wonderful, no matter the modality. When I was enrolled in my undergraduate program, I had a professor who read from the book. That was his lecture, no kidding. I also had a teacher make history so alive that I was never bored. My theory stands that the teacher that read from the book would not (or could not) create a course to motivate me in his online class. And the professor that made history exciting in the classroom would find a way to do that online.

The solution to quality online courses lies in institutional administrators and faculty to commit to quality. To promote quality courses, institutions employ instructional designers to help professors build courses that transfer the engagement and quality of a face-to-face class to online courses. (An instructional designer is an expert in course design and pedagogy.) The designer is trained in many technologies and can suggest a variety of ways make an online course more interesting and engaging for the student. There exists a plethora of tools readily available for online content. There are also systems of looking at course design following a set of standards to promote quality courses. One of these systems is called Quality Matters. Quality Matters was developed to review courses for standards of quality backed by research.

My friends all have bachelor’s degrees, most have masters degrees, and many have, or or working on their doctorate. We often talk about our college debt, regretting the money we spent on private institutions, elite schools, dorm life. We think about how much better off financially we would be if we started at community colleges, lived at home, and attended a good state school. I thought of my daughter as she walked across stage. Her next step in the fall begins at an expensive pastry school, but only for a semester. Then her choices need to be less about a traditional college experience and more about how will she be able to meet her career goals without student loans and other debt. She will need to be smarter, perhaps beginning at a community college, miss out on dorm life, choose a school that will not take most of her paycheck when she graduates, and perhaps take some classes online.

I have become a MOOC Junkie

I had no idea. No idea at all. Six months ago I couldn’t even spell MOOC and now I am totally addicted. (If you don’t know what a MOOC is, see the video and explanation at the end of this post.)

It all started because the college where I work (Cuyahoga Community College, or Tri-C) received a Bill and Melinda Gates grant to develop a MOOC. We built a four-week MOOC in pre-algebra. My math skills are so deficient, I decided to take the course myself. I took the course seriously and increased my math knowledge. After I finished the math MOOC I took a course on Open Educational Resources from SUNY Buffalo. Hmmm….I began looking around.  I stumbled upon a plethora of MOOCs in a variety of interesting subjects. I think I’ve signed up for 10 so far.

I am now taking English Composition offered by Duke University; Gamification offered by the University of Pennsylvania;  Rhetorical Composing offered by The Ohio State University; and next week I begin Inspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence offered by Case Western Reserve University. These courses are all very professionally developed and I am learning as much in these MOOCs as I have in most of my online courses that I paid to attend! Of course, a MOOC does not offer credit; at most participants receive a certificate of completion. But if the objective is professional development or self development, MOOCs are awesome.

There is a caveat, however. MOOCs have homework and scheduled assignments just like any other online class. Most of them also have additional resources that will enhance in-class learning. It takes commitment to reap the knowledge these classes have to offer. If you are a junkie, like me, you may find you need to drop one you really wanted to take. But the courses you finish will expand your knowledge. And it’s free.

 

MOOC is an acronym for Massive Open Online Course. According to Wikipedia, MOOCs were coined by Dave Cormier. And it just so happens I have a YouTube video from Dave.

 

Changing Course: Tracking Online Education

Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States
is a report on higher education online learning within the US. With help from the College Board, 2,800 colleges’ and universities’ chief academic officers gave their opinion on questions about the nature and extent of online education. I am going to highlight some of the data below that I find interesting. And then I often add my two cents.

Online learning consists of courses with at least 80% of the course online. Blended is courses with 30% to 80% of the instruction online, and Face-to-face courses are courses with less than 30% is taught online.

MOOCS

Only 2.6% of the institutions have MOOCS and the officers are very diverse on their opinion whether they think MOOCs will be sustainable or not but many believe that MOOCs will give them opportunities to learn about online learning. The interesting thing that the report found was that it is the colleges that offer the most MOOCs are the ones that don’t believe they are sustainable. That’s interesting. Maybe it is because they see the MOOCs as they are presented today are more of a public service. It would be interesting to know.The report did find that it is the two year colleges that believe they “have the ability to scale their online offerings”.

43% think that MOOCs drive students to their institutions. 50% agree that MOOCs are good for students to determine if online instruction will work for them. Oh man. MOOCs are too different from a quality online course to make that judgement.

Is Online Learning Strategic?

A large number, almost 70%, think that online learning is critical to their long term strategy.  I feel bad for the other 30%.

How Many Students are Learning Online?

Over 6.7 million students are taking at least one course online. This is around 32% of all students.  Well the numbers speak for themselves here.

62% of the institutions offer complete online programs. I think it is the way to go, especially for the post-graduate degrees. We work during the day and go to school at night. Only if our program isn’t offered locally, we can still take the classes that are meaningful to us. Yeah.

Does it take more Faculty Time and Effort.

44% of public colleges think so but only 24% of for profit colleges think it takes longer. Could it be that the privates have more Tech savvy faculty or have hired instructional designers to build the course?

What about learning outcomes? How do they compare to face-to-face (f2f).

77% think online is at least as good as f2f.  Perhaps we have learned how to make online better over the years, schools often hire instructional designers to help with the courses.  I wonder what the number would be if the students were answering the questions. After all, these figures are perceptions. And, the report notes that the chief academic officers are more positive about these figures than the faculty.

Are the Faculty beginning to buy in to Online learning.

It’s still low. Only 30 percent believe online learning is a legitimate method for learning. I’m wondering how many of the remaining 70% have been never taken or have taught an online course.

What are the barriers to adopting online learning?

Many think that students are not as disciplined. Okay. But are students disaplined in the classroom? It depends on the course. When I was in college, I had a professor read from the book. That was his lecture, no kidding. I also had a teacher make history so alive that I was never board. My guess is that the teacher that read from the book would not motivate me in an online class and the teacher that made history so real would find a way to do that online.

What is Online Learning According to the Report

Online learning is courses with at least 80% of the course online. Blended is courses with 30% to 80% of the instruction online, and Face-to-face courses are courses with less than 30% is taught online.

Allen, I. Elaine & Seaman, Jeff. (2013). Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States. Babson Survey Research Group and Quahog Research Group.

Working on the Wiki

Wiki work is collaboration work. So far it looks like most of the work on the class wiki is cooperation rather than collaboration. I think Americans are very sensitive about stepping on each others toes. I know I am. I don’t want to offend anyone. Editing work from someone else may be perceived as walking on someone else’s property. Keep out!

I wonder if trespassing on other people’s property is the mentality of why, in schools, we were basically taught to work on our own papers and 99% of the work we did in school (at least in my case) was individual. Most of us aren’t farmers anymore. And most of us don’t work in the same spot on the assembly line. So in today’s world, doing that much individual work in school is kind of dumb when you think about it. Most of the time when we go to work, we have to learn to work with others. A lot of the work in the “real world”  today is collaborative.

Essential technology skills for teachers

What are the essential technology skills for teachers? Teacher leaders? How important is it to be a true “expert” in technology? Should graduate programs in Education focus on developing experts or advancing the practice of classroom teachers?

“[T]he current federal No Child Left Behind legislation requires that every student be technology literate by the end of the eighth grade, and teachers must be knowledgeable enough to help students reach this goal. (Egbert, 2009, p. 14–15). That being the case, then teachers need to be at least proficient in information literacy, creating blogs and wikis and using them for enhanced student learning. Most of the teachers I personally know can barely open their e-mail and if I ask them what browser they are using, they don’t even know what I’m taking about. Pitiful. So if they understood the internet, how to research it, and the power behind blogging, wikis, RSS feeds and social bookmarking for student learning, I think that would be a huge beginning. And like Dr. Dalton said, they don’t need to know everything, but enough for the class to learn together.

Of course teacher leaders should know much more than the basics. They need to have patient coaching skills for those teachers who struggle with technology and struggle even more on how to integrate the technology in their classrooms. It is the Teacher leaders who will probably be the ones who show many of the teachers how to design opportunities for the students to create their own learning experiences. And the path for Teacher Leaders to becoming the experts is usually through a professional development program such as the masters program at Kent. I think by “advancing the practice of classroom teachers”, Kent IS developing experts. They go hand in hand. I don’t find that courses here teach technology at all. We are instructed to produce podcasts and other multimedia projects within the scope of almost every course, but we are not shown how to use these tools. This we have to figure out ourselves. So for that matter, any teacher can learn how to set up a wiki or produce a podcast, etc. What the experts from Kent learn, however, is how to “design and implement engaging and learning experiences” and do it well so we can help those who are not experts advance student learning with technology.

Egbert, J. (2009). Supporting learning with technology: Essentials of classroom practice. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education.

Ice Breakers

The first two I took right off the wordpress site.

  • Do you like surprises? Why or why not?
  • Describe your personality in five words or less.
  • If you were an animal, what animal would you be?