Saturday, November 20, 2010

The 2010 Sloan online teaching survey

I recently summarized the 2009 Sloan online teaching survey. Now lets take a quick look at the 2010 survey.

Among other things, the survey found that online instruction is growning fast, federal regulation aimed at curbing financial aid abuse at for profit schools would impact other schools, but to a lesser degree, the market is competitive, and most academic leaders think online instruction is as good as face-to-face. Here are a few sample results:

  • Sixty-three percent of all reporting institutions said that online learning was a critical part of their institution’s long term strategy, a small increase from fifty-nine percent in 2009.
  • Over 5.6 million students (nearly thirty percent) were taking at least one online course during the fall 2009 term -- an increase of nearly one million students over the number reported the previous year.
  • The twenty-one percent growth rate for online enrollments far exceeds the less than two percent growth of the overall higher education student population.
  • Over three-quarters of academic leaders at public institutions report that online is as good as or better than face-to-face instruction (compared to only 55.4% of private nonprofits and 67.0% of for-profits).
  • Nearly one-half the institutions report that the economic downturn has increased demand for face-to-face courses and programs while three-quarters report that it has increased demand for online courses and programs.
  • The economic impact on institutional budgets has been mixed; forty-seven percent have seen their budgets decrease, but twenty-seven percent have experienced an increase.
  • For-profit institutions report a potential negative impact from proposed Federal rules on financial aid on their enrollments at more than twice the rate of other types of institutions (33.9% compared to 12.2% for public institutions and 10.1% for private nonprofit institutions).
  • A majority of institutions continue to report that there is increasing competition for online students.
  • Public institutions report more pressure from the for-profit sector than do the private nonprofit institutions.
  • Reported year-to-year enrollment changes for fully online programs by discipline show most growing, but with a sizable portion seeing steady enrollments.
  • Virtually all recent growth in online enrollments has come from the growth of existing offerings, not from institutions new to online starting new programs.
It's noteworthy that public school leaders are most likely to consider online as good as or better than face-to-face instruction and they are also most likely to offer online courses. This raises the causality question -- are they more likely to offer online classes because they feel they are effective or vice versa? Regardless, will the growing proportion of online courses come to further differentiate public and private education?

It also makes one wonder how to judge the effectivness of a course. Is it scores on an objective exam, student satisfaction levels on a survey, the quality of interaction with fellow students, experience of the values and enthusiasm of a teacher, etc.? As stated in our review of the previous Sloan survey, hyrbid courses, which can offer some of the advantages of both modes of instruction, seem to be the best solution for some schools and some classes.

Immigration and future technology

Last Sunday, the LA Times had an article about a high school science project competition sponsored by Siemens. High school juniors were competing for scholarships and a chance to progress to the national competition.

The article described several projects and gave the student's names: Akash Krishnan, Matthew Fernandez, Ryan Chow, Eric Huang, Eric Wu, Hanna Lee, Angela Zhang, Jacqueline Wang, Lesley Chan, Edward Huang, Bonnie Lei, Sean Wang, Scott Zhuge, Abhishek Venkataramana, and Andrew Liu.

The names made me smile and feel optimistic about the US. It also reminded me of my father, who was the second of six kids born to immigrant parents in a three room house with no plumbing or electricity.

The entries focused mainly in biology and IT, and the contest winners demonstrated (and patented) a technique for classifying emotion in voice recordings. Being relatively open to immigration has its costs, but we should not overlook the benefits to our economy and culture.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Online classes -- hybrids? Large lectures? A growing elite education gap?

An article in today's New York Times looks at online university classes. The article presents a number of anecdotes and examples -- some supporting and some criticizing online undergraduate teaching.

Students like the convenience of online classes and universities hope they will save money (though not all do). On the other hand, some students and parents want contact with faculty in relatively small classes. The Times gave the example of Ilan Shrira, who teaches developmental psychology to 300 students. He said he chose his field because of the passion of a professor who taught him as an undergraduate, but he thought it unlikely that anyone could be so inspired by an online course.

Good or bad, online classes are taking off. The Sloan Survey of Online Learning reported that 4.6 million students took a college-level online course during fall 2008, up 17 percent from a year earlier. More than one in four higher education students took at least one course online.

The article and report reminded me of the tension between classes in large lecture halls with teaching assistants and those in classrooms with a professor. Many online classes are replacing large lectures, and we need to differentiate between that and replacing small classes.

I was taken by professor Shrira's comment. I believe that in my small classes I connect with and make a difference to one or two students a semester. Since students take many classes, the odds of one or two such connections during their time in school are good. I would hate to see that dimension of education eliminated, so:

Perhaps we should be focusing our online efforts on the lecture hall, not the classroom.

Another finding from the Sloan Survey caught my eye. Jeff Seaman, co-director of the survey, said that a large majority, about three million of the 4.7 million online students, were simultaneously enrolled in face-to-face courses, many in community colleges. That indicates that we are not doing as much "distant education" as we might think -- most of our online students are local, which leads me to wonder:

Should we be leaning more toward hybrid than pure online classes?

Finally, the Sloan survey showed that students at large, public universities are more likely to take online classes than those at small, private (expensive) universities. With steadily growing income inequality in the United States, the move to online classes may widen the gap between mass and elite education.