From the Golden State to the Sunshine State: Can MOOCs be Applied to the ET Degree?

On January 27, the California State University System announced a pilot program that will offer lower division online courses at one of its campuses for the ultra low cost of $150 per 3-credit course. Gov. Jerry Brown approved the project for San Jose State University (SJSU) to partner with Udacity (www.udacity.com) to provide lower-division and remedial classes in algebra and statistics as MOOCs (massively open online courses) that are developed in partnership with university professors. Students at SJSU, local community colleges and high schools will make up the 300 student pilot group.

The trial offers a potential solution to many issues in higher education around the country, including the high and rising cost of higher education; the mediocre completion rates; and the large number of remedial courses needed to prepare students for college level courses. At SJSU and many institutions around the country, approximately half of incoming freshmen require at least one remedial course.

MOOCs exploded after a Stanford University professor offered a course on artificial intelligence as a MOOC just 2 years ago. In just a few days, over 160,000 people from around the world had enrolled in the course. Typically, MOOCs are open to anyone and anywhere and are free. The courses are not unlike more traditional online courses that have online assessments built into the course structure. However, the MOOCs are on platforms that will support very large number of users. Students enrolled do not earn credit towards a degree like on-line courses offered by educational institutions, but can earn a certificate of mastery, or successful completion if they participate in a defined portion of the course and course assessments. The SJSU pilot is a blend of MOOCs and traditional online courses. Students will get college credit from SJSU if they pay the modest cost and pass specific MOOC courses.

There are a few small trials of college students using online programs, MOOCs that suggest that these courses may show higher retention and completion than traditional face-to-face courses. Other data highlights the high percentage of MOOC participants that do not finish or even start the free courses. MOOCs offer the opportunity to collect data on student performance as well as behavior during a course for a large sample size, which could provide better information on what works and what does not. MOOCs also align with the new reality that the internet provides information about everything for everyone at many levels, and it’s been shown that new business models can and do work for these enterprises. All this opportunity sits at the doorsteps of higher education institutions that are struggling with budget issues, completion rates, faculty disengagement, and remediation. Maybe MOOCs will provide some answers.

We could be watching the beginning of a new education model whose time has come. As this new model matures, the impact on those of us working in the current system is speculative. We can, however, speculate about what public and private educational institutions of all levels will “look like” in the future.

For our Florida engineering technology degree, MOOCs could offer an opportunity that FLATE and its partner colleges have been waiting for since its inception: a vehicle to offer an open online version of the engineering technology core course that students from around the state could enroll in. Using MOOCs, we could accelerate time to completion, grow the program enrollments, lower degree costs for our students and strengthen our community of practice. We hope to be working with our college partners’ faculty and institutions to develop our own MOOC pilot.

FLATE is proud and pleased to host its National Visiting Committee (NVC) this month. We will be opening our meeting with the premiere of a National Science Foundation (NSF) Science Nation’s multi-media story about our program. We are very proud to have been selected as an exemplary ATE center to be nationally highlighted. This month we also welcome Desh Bagley to our FLATE team as our new Outreach Manager. Desh has worked tirelessly with FLATE for several years promoting robotics for student at all levels, we welcome her talent and passion to get and keep students and parents engaged in STEM-focused problem based learning. So, take a few moments to read about a very successful FESC professional development day at the Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC); the 4-year degree opportunities our A.S. ET graduates are seamlessly transferring into, and the unique “Science Saturday” program offered at the Institute of Human and Machine Cognition. For all you STEM puzzlers, the answer to puzzle 32 awaits you!