Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Seen any good coverage of online learning lately?

I’m always trying to get higher ed reporters to write about online classes, given how common they have become and how mysterious they are to us fuddy-duddies. (Can one be a fuddy-duddy before 40? The case against: I have an iPhone, and I’ve watched every minute of “America’s Next Top Model.” The case for: I just suggested having an iPhone and watching “America’s Next Top Model” makes me youthful.)

Problem is, telling people to write about online courses feels a lot like telling people to eat their spinach. Well, spinach is transformative when flash-fried and dressed with tamarind, yogurt and tomatoes, and journalism on distance learning should be unboring too. So at the APLU conference this week, when I had to choose between two simultaneous sessions, one on veterans and one on learning, I picked the latter. After all, ten times as many college students are taking courses online as are expected to take advantage of the GI Bill.

And it was ... too spinachey. The most interesting thing was the bird flying through the conference room. I went next door to the veterans session and immediately was immersed in story ideas. Nancy Marlin, the provost at San Diego State University, warned we will start seeing lots of problems when veterans drop out and the VA comes after them—not the schools—for all the money paid up front for their education and fees. She warned that enlistees might pay the $1,200 GI Bill contribution up front and then be out of luck if they want to pursue vocational education one day, as that is not covered.

By the way, did you know that the GI Bill does not cover students who take all of their classes online? (I knew I could tie these threads together somehow.) Okay, shoot: What are the most interesting stories you have written or read lately on online courses?

1 comment:

  1. I've been stunned by how little has been written on online instruction and how poorly focused research has been. Consider the following reasonable topics:

    1. How do courses using software like Blackboard/Angel compare to dedicated curriculums like ALEKS?

    2. How important is consistency in interface to teachers? This matters because the tradeoff of teacher ease-of-use vs curriculum content may matter! Products like Apex sell well vs products like Cognitive Tutor, because with them it's easy for teachers to cover many types of classes with one product. Admins like this.

    3. What is the role of software choice to students? For example, reviews saying one software product is better than another misleads in my experience. I change the software to fit different student levels and attitudes. In the same classroom, I offer IXL, Smartmath, Aleks, and Apex. If a student doesn't progress under one, then he or she is moved to another.

    4. Why isn't the number of questions in assessments counted in evaluations? For example, in math software, students may see the same questions repeated or other students know the answers "to help" each other.

    5. Cheating appears rampant to me. Students routinely sign up for online courses and have others do the work. I'm not exaggerating. My students have to take all assessments in class with restarts for poor scores. Isn't this a problem for others?

    6. My question in 5 suggests that online learning is sold. A product that is sold with only hand-waving in research and reviews. To put it differently, ed researchers are lazy. They ask the wrong questions.