San Jose State University (SJSU) and edX, the Harvard/MIT-led consortium for online classes.
Blended classes bring massive open online courses, or MOOCs, to physical classrooms. San Jose State piloted an introductory engineering class where students watched an edX class on circuits and electronics, MITx 6.002x, and came to physical classes to work on course-related activities such as quizzes and collaborative work. Students who passed received full credit and did not pay extra for the blended course. The course saw much higher pass rates than traditional courses at SJSU in the same subject.
The students' success prompted 11 of the 23 California State University campuses to consider offering blended versions of the engineering course. San Jose State is also going to add three to five more edX blended courses, including courses in the humanities, business and social sciences. The university and edX are working out licensing fees for these courses, said Anant Agarwal, edX president, during a press event at San Jose State.
[ MOOCs save universities money, but might cost students in other ways. See MOOCs: Valuable Innovation Or Grand Diversion? ]
At the press event, California officials said blended courses might help ease capacity issues. California expects 320,000 students to apply to its universities, but has capacity to accept only 124,000 of them.
"This is just the beginning," said Gavin Newsom, California's lieutenant governor. "We don't know what we don't know. This is an evidence-based approach to a new form of learning." Newsom said the state would make about $10 million available to the state's universities to help develop educational enhancements like blended classes. Newsom joked that MOOC "is a horrible name."
It was clear that the name won't really bother anyone if it helps California address its educational needs. What is not clear is how well the blended classes will scale, said Michelle Rhee-Weise, a senior research fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, formerly known as the Innosight Institute, in San Mateo, Calif. She said that for now, "what's most exciting is that the university is willing to experiment and try to adapt to this tide of technology coming its way."
Clayton Christensen, a Harvard Business School professor, coined the idea of disruptive innovation in business, where new technologies supersede established ones, affecting and often dismantling existing companies. Christensen's 1997 book The Innovator's Dilemma used the examples of steel mini-mills and personal computers, both of which revolutionized established industries and killed existing companies. He has since developed his ideas on disruption for healthcare and education.
MOOCs are seen by many as a disruptive force in education because they are far less expensive than university courses, if not free, and can have tens of thousands of students in a class. Rhee-Weise said that what California was doing was not disruptive, but could be termed a sustaining innovation, where an established organization applies a new idea in a way that improves its current product.
Blended classes show promise. SJSU ran three sections of its introductory electrical engineering course; two were normal lecture courses, one was blended. San Jose State's president, Mohammad Quayoumi, said the blended class achieved a 91% pass rate vs. 59% for the traditional classes.
"It suggests we are experiencing a significant breakthrough in this area," Quayoumi said.
Higher pass rates mean fewer students need to retake the class, saving taxpayer dollars and Pell grant money. Quayoumi said he hopes that it will also lead to a more diverse group of students, and more students in general, taking classes in the so-called STEM majors of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
San Jose State also offers a blended class from another MOOC maker, Udacity. Quayoumi said there would be information on that course forthcoming.
San Jose State will create a Center for Excellence in Adaptive and Blended Learning. In part, that center will help train faculty to work in blended class environments.
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