Day: <span>September 19, 2013</span>

Computers alone don’t cut it in the classroom


The educational entrepreneurs who would have us believe that computers can replace teachers have some more egg on their faces. So, for that matter, do some administrators at San Jose State University in California, which recently ended a much-ballyhooed online program, but not before setting who knows how many students behind in their degree plans.

As the NEAToday Express story, linked below, points out, this is another dent in the myth that MOOCs – massive, open, online courses – are a potential educational miracle. Computer-assisted education certainly has its place, but let’s not be in too big a hurry to dismiss real, flesh and blood teachers.

Last year, San Jose State entered into an agreement with Udacity, a for-profit company, to offer three for-credit, online-only classes in developmental math, statistics and algebra. San Jose State students and others who took the course were charged $150 per student, with the university president predicting the high-tech arrangement would be a “game-changer.”

Not quite.

In none of the three online courses offered last spring did more than half of San Jose State students pass, and only 25 percent of the university students passed the online algebra class, compared to a long-term average passing rate of 65 percent among students who take the same algebra course face-to-face with professors. Most of the online students said they wanted more help with contest.

The “game-changer” partnership was suspended this summer.

San Jose also entered a second MOOC deal with MIT-Harvard’s edX in which students watched MIT engineering lectures online. But in this course, students also attended classes with a San Jose State professor, who answered questions and otherwise worked with them. Engineering students in this “hybrid” approach did better than engineering students in traditional classes.

Computers certainly can help teachers and students in the classroom. They are valuable educational tools that can open up new learning opportunities. But most students still need a teacher.