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Online Learning Research Shows How Listening to a Lecture Isn’t Much Better Than Watching TV
March 7th, 2013

why it won't be hazardous to your brain if you miss in-person lectures in online learningThe advantages of interactive learning over passive lecture experiences have been well-documented through the years, but I would have thought academic lectures were at least a step up from Snooki’s antics on “Jersey Shore.” Not so much.

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Best Online Degrees in 2013: What the Rankings Say
February 1st, 2013

online degree rankingsWe are a rankings- and ratings-obsessed nation. Nielsen ratings help determine which TV shows stay on the air, and the ratings that reviewers post online help us decide which products to purchase.

Higher education is certainly no stranger to the rankings universe – U.S. News & World Report has been ranking colleges since 1983. But this is only the second year that the news magazine has ranked online education programs.

Nearly 860 online education programs (up more than 20 percent from the 2012 list) were evaluated by U.S. News for 2013. Only degree-granting programs that met the federal standard of 100 percent online course delivery were evaluated – no blended learning here. As U.S. News has stated from the start, it is ranking programs, not schools. Also note that the rankings make no distinction between nonprofit and for-profit schools’ programs.

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Top 10 Reasons to Do Summer School Online
July 5th, 2012

Sun, sand, and surf… Who wants to miss glorious warm weather activities just to sit in a classroom all summer long? As it turns out, you don’t have to abandon fun in favor of academia. Even if studying is the last thing on your mind this summer, take a look at the top 10 reasons you should stay in school – online, of course.

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7 Things Military Students Should Look For in an Online School
July 2nd, 2012

military students and online learningAs we reported recently on CollegeSurfing.com, when some schools see military personnel, they see dollar signs. After all, what school wouldn’t want a piece of the more than $4 billion that colleges have already collected under the new GI Bill?

Not all schools are preying on service members, though. Many colleges and universities hold military students in high regard, tailoring online programs to their unique needs.

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Can You Get a Job With an Online Degree?
June 25th, 2012

can you get a job with an online degree?Online education has come a long way since the turn of the century. But for many people schooling online, there is still a concern about getting a job upon graduation. Why?

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Learn Artificial Intelligence from Stanford Online… for Free!
September 13th, 2011

Whoever said there’s no such thing as a free lunch must not have heard about the latest offerings at Stanford’s School of Engineering. This fall, Stanford is going out on a limb and offering three online courses for free – Introduction to Artificial Intelligence (AI), Introduction to Databases, and Introduction to Machine Learning. The AI course in particular has attracted the interest of thousands of students around the world – more than 120,000, by one approximation – and it hasn’t even started yet.

At first I thought this was no different than what MIT has being doing for years with its OpenCourseWare initiative. But at closer inspection, there are major distinctions. OpenCourseWare is a free publication of MIT course materials, but students don’t register for the courses because they are not credit-bearing in any way. Also, there is no access to MIT faculty. This doesn’t diminish the incredible impact and reach of the 2,000 courses MIT has published over the last decade, but it does put Stanford’s experimental offerings into perspective.

Though the curriculum for Stanford’s artificial intelligence online course will be drawn from the popular on-campus course, it will still function as a “real” online course – with pre-recorded video lectures, homework, quizzes, exams, an online discussion board, and feedback on assignments. The two instructors and leaders in the AI field, Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig, will be active participants in the general discussion forum and will answer top-voted student questions. (It would be impossible to answer individual questions from thousands of students!)

The 10-week AI online course runs from October 10 to December 18 and is being offered in two tracks, basic and advanced. In the basic track, students will watch the lectures and take basic quizzes, but will not complete the full course requirements. The advanced track is the whole shebang. Tip: If you enroll in the advanced track and find it too challenging, you can always switch back to the basic. Upon successful completion of either track, students will receive a Statement of Accomplishment signed by the instructors, but no official Stanford certificate or credit. If you’d like, you can watch the lecture videos without enrolling, but you won’t have access to any other features of the course.

Musings on Massively Open Online Courses
Stanford’s artificial intelligence course is the latest entry into the growing marketplace of Massively Open Online Courses (MOOC), an exciting experiment in making education accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. It does pose some interesting questions, though. Anyone can participate, but will the average joe be equipped to handle the rigor of a Stanford course? A solid understanding of probability and linear algebra are required, in addition to a commitment of 10-15 hours per week to complete the coursework. In light of that, I’m curious to see how many of the thousands of students enrolled will actually complete the course requirements.

The other concern that comes to mind is that of control – how can you effectively monitor an online course of this size? How will Stanford guard against spammers and trolls who might attempt to ruin the experience for everyone? And is the technology equipped to handle such a large discussion forum as well as the challenges of grading?

Managing a massive course like this is sure to bring some headaches, but hopefully, it will be worthwhile for instructors and motivated students alike. In any event, Stanford should be applauded for this effort to share the educational wealth. And I, for one, look forward to finding out about the outcomes!

-Robyn Tellefsen

Good News and Bad News in For-Profit Education
March 15th, 2011

We’re no strangers to bad press about for-profit schools, covering everything from overly aggressive recruiting tactics to sky-high loan default rates. So I decided to poke my nose around the for-profits to find out how they’re faring these days.

Good News: For-Profit Campuses Reinstated
After placing Westwood College on probation in December for questionable recruiting practices and low graduation and job placement rates, the Colorado Commission on Higher Education has just reauthorized the for-profit school to operate in the state. But Colorado still has its eye on Westwood – it is requiring the career school to report any findings from its accreditors for the next three years. Also, in February, the Wisconsin Educational Approval Board lifted its ban on the for-profit school, now allowing Wisconsin students to enroll in Westwood College Online.

Not-So-Good News: For-Profit Campuses on Probation
The three Texas campuses of Westwood College (Houston South, Dallas, and Fort Worth) were placed on probation and fined $41,000 last year because of several violations, including high-pressure recruitment practices and failure to notify the Texas Workforce Commission of four pending lawsuits against the school. The Texas campuses have been operating under Conditional Certificates of Approval since December.

Bad News: No Funding for Veterans at These For-Profit Campuses
The spotlight’s not off Westwood yet. In December, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs withdrew tuition assistance from Westwood’s three Texas campuses for deceptive advertising and enrollment practices. Fall 2010 was the last semester students were eligible to use VA benefits at those campuses. The VA continues to keep an eye out for similar tactics at other for-profit schools, especially in light of the Government Accountability Office 2010 report revealing that 15 for-profit colleges have made deceptive statements about graduation rates and misrepresented graduates’ earnings potential, among other questionable practices.

Good News: More Funding for Veterans at Other For-Profit Colleges
On the other hand, a veterans’ benefits bill approved in December is throwing for-profits a bone. The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act of 2010 will provide a housing stipend to veterans taking college courses on campus and to vets who are schooling online. The law also expands benefits for veterans taking job-training and non-degree programs – the bread and butter of many for-profit schools. Most of the changes in the law will take effect in August.

Mixed News: For-Profit Schools Forced to Prove Themselves
Lest you think Westwood is the only for-profit under fire, consider the case of Everest College. Everest College Phoenix has until March 21 to prove itself to its accreditor, the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. Everest College Phoenix, which encompasses campuses in Phoenix, Mesa, and the school’s Online Division, has been on academic probation since 2009 because of concerns that the for-profit school does not have enough control over on-campus academics and operations and autonomy from its parent company, Corinthian Colleges. This past November, the campus was given an “Order to Show Cause,” requiring Everest to demonstrate why its accreditation should not be revoked. During the Show-Cause period, Everest College Phoenix does retain its accreditation.

For-profit schools can still be a great higher education choice, of course — just be sure to check the headlines before you enroll.

-Robyn Tellefsen

Online Learning While on Campus – Is There a Point?
November 16th, 2010

A recent New York Times article presents a thought-provoking twist on the classic online vs. classroom debate – the effectiveness of online courses for traditional, on-campus students. Though some resident students are taking advantage of online lectures to save themselves the hassle of hoofing it to class, the exponential increase of on-campus students taking online courses is attributed to economics. In many courses, more students are enrolled than could fit into a lecture hall. With budget cuts across the board, colleges and universities are turning to online classes to keep enrollment up and costs down.

Online Learning: Who’s Doing It?
According to the most recent Sloan Survey of Online Learning, of the 4.6 million students who took a college-level online course during fall 2008, about three million were simultaneously enrolled in face-to-face courses. Many of these students attended community colleges, but online courses have been making their way into undergrad programs at large public universities as well:

  • University of Florida: Resident students are earning 12 percent of their credit hours online this semester, a figure expected to grow to 25 percent in five years.
  • University of Iowa: Ten percent of 14,000 liberal arts undergrads take an online course each semester.
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: First-year Spanish students now receive all their instruction online.

The Effectiveness of Online Education
Most higher education officials would agree that advances in technology create exciting and effective learning opportunities. But online courses that offer streamed lectures alone do not take advantage of the interactivity inherent to the education format.

Plus, it seems unfair to require resident students to take online classes, whether they are ill-suited for the format or are simply reluctant to lose classroom face time. After all, online courses are really not what students are going away to college for.

Eventually, all of this makes its way back to the “Is online learning as effective as face-to-face learning” question. A companion New York Times article does present positive stats for online education: “An analysis of 99 studies by the federal Department of Education concluded last year that online instruction, on average, was more effective than face-to-face learning by a modest amount.”

But the article goes on to state the fairly obvious conclusion that some students, perhaps even entire populations, will fare better with online education than others. A recent study reported by the National Bureau of Economic Research revealed that Hispanic students watching online lectures in a University of Florida microeconomics course earned a full grade lower, on average, than Hispanics who attended the lectures, and all male students who watched online earned about a half-grade lower than their classroom counterparts.

In my mind, online classes can be effective whether you’re on campus or off – but requiring students to learn online is where the problem lies.

What do you think? Is it wrong to require resident students to take courses online?

–Robyn Tellefsen