SJSU and Udacity Put For-Credit Online Classes on Hold

July 19, 2013

Six months after launching San Jose State Plus, a partnership with Udacity to offer three for-credit online courses, San Jose State University said it would pause the pilot program to re-evaluate and make adjustments.

As first reported by Inside Higher Ed, San Jose State Provost Ellen Junn said the decision to take a "short breather" was based on preliminary findings that students in the online program did not perform as well as students in traditional classes. Results showed that no more than 51 percent of Udacity students successfully passed any of the online courses, compared to 74 percent or more who typically pass the traditional class versions. As a result, Junn plans to spend the fall analyzing the data as well as discussing the school's online ventures with faculty members. Junn plans to re-start the program in spring 2014.

"I think the commitment is to look at the data carefully and make adjustments," explained Junn in a telephone interview with Inside Higher Ed.

The reasons for poor performance among the online students vary. For one, the courses -- a remedial math course, a college algebra course and an introductory statistics course -- were put together hurriedly. The program was announced just two weeks before classes actually started, and because the effort to expand online offerings was strongly encouraged by California Governor Jerry Brown, faculty built courses on the fly and in haste. In some cases, faculty were still trying to finish them while students moved through the class and as a result, the instructors were not able to monitor students' performance and provide help when needed.

Another potential factor could have been the student population. According to The Wall Street Journal, the pilot program was comprised of high school students, non-San Jose State students and students who had previously failed remedial math.

"We believe the difference in student population was one of the factors for the broad discrepancy," wrote Udacity and San Jose State University in a joint statement, quoted by The Wall Street Journal.

Furthermore, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that some students did not have sufficient computer and Internet access for part of the semester. Due to the multiple factors that contributed to the lower-than-expected pass rate, Junn told Inside Higher Ed that it is difficult to compare the online students to traditional San Jose State students.

Sandra Desousa, a math lecturer at SJSU and one of the pilot program's instructors, noted that in the online math class she taught this spring, 29 percent of SJSU students passed as well as 12 percent of the non-matriculated students. Desousa told The Chronicle of Higher Education the numbers were "not bad" overall for a developmental math course.

"I would say, for a pilot, it was very successful," said Desousa in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the results of the pilot program were never meant to be made public. Junn had presented the findings to the California State University Academic Council last month and the presentation was leaked to Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle of Higher Education. The university plans to release a thorough report next month.

At the very least, the data serves to show that there is no cure-all for the problems within higher education. The experimentation with technology also sheds light on the importance of balancing efficiency with student's learning needs.

Compiled by Heidi M. Agustin


"San Jose State Pauses Udacity,", July 18, 2013, Geoffrey A. Fowler

"San Jose State U. Puts MOOC Project With Udacity on Hold,", July 19, 2013, Steve Kolowich

"Udacity Project on 'Pause',", July 18, 2013, Ry Rivard

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