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San Jose State To Expand edX Partnership, Open Center of Excellence

San Jose State University announced Wednesday its intentions to take a leadership role in the use of massively online open courses for offering blended or hybrid courses. The institution, which refers to itself as "Silicon's Valley's Public University," plans to open a center of excellence based specifically on the experiences it has garnered through a fall 2012 course on circuits and electronics involving MOOC provider edX. The university also said it would expand its relationship with edX by delivering new courses in fall 2013 based on the same model. edX for its part intends to formalize the process of delivering its MOOC courses on individual campuses to "change the classroom experience."

San Jose is "definitely experiencing a significant breakthrough in this area," said university President Mohammad Qayoumi. He noted that the version of the course, "Electrical Engineering 98: Introduction to Circuit Analysis" that used materials from edX's Electronics and Circuits course 6.002x saw the pass rate go from 59 percent in simultaneously offered traditional versions of the course to 91 percent in the pilot program. Historically, the course has had a low pass rate, with about 40 percent of students receiving a C- or lower, requiring them to repeat the class in order to move on in the major.

This spring the experiment will be repeated with the same course and the same number of students — about 87 — in order to refine the approach, according to a university statement. On top of that, Qayoumi, said, the use of edX in courses would be expanded to between three and five new courses, using content from MIT, Harvard, and the University of California, Berkeley, in multiple disciplines, including humanities, business, social sciences, and applied sciences. "This is a precious opportunity," he declared, "to leverage the exponential power of innovative technology combined with [the] expertise of our outstanding faculty."

San Jose State took a methodical approach to integrating edX resources into the engineering class. According to a paper put together by San Jose State for the Little Hoover Commission, which investigates California state government operations, the university sent three instructors to Cambridge, MA, where edX and MIT are located, to work with people from both organizations in adapting existing MOOC curriculum. Those San Jose State instructors made the decision to flip the classroom. Students in the pilot course would go to the edX platform to view course lectures, take quizzes, perform virtual labs, read a digital textbook, and use virtual office hours before coming to class. Then they'd physically attend the course twice a week, where their professor would deliver mini-lectures and discuss various parts of the subject covered in the videos. The students who participated would sit at tables of three — their "group" — to receive peer and team instruction and do problem solving using materials developed by the faculty members. Students would also take two quizzes in each class, one as a group and one as an individual.

The new approach was "more time consuming," noted student Sara Compton, who attended the pilot course and spoke at today's announcement. "We have homework in addition to lectures and quizzes. The lecture sequences take between an hour and two hours. So I have to make time for that as well as homework." An advantage of the new approach, Compton pointed out, was that the videos allowed her to review the lectures over and over. Those recordings were available in three speeds, slow, normal, and fast. "I usually watch the lectures in normal speed, but if you don't understand, you can go back and play it again in slower mode."

Professor Khosrow Ghadiri, one of the lecturers in the pilot program, acknowledged the advantage of being able to review a lecture. In the traditional format, he said, "When students would come into the class, they were silent. Inactive. If we were lucky, I got two or three questions over a 50-minute lecture. You recognize the fact that the attention span of the student was only 15 minutes. After that, their minds flew away and some of the lecture was missed."

The standard model of classroom instruction — the lecture — is akin to "spouting content," said edX President Anant Agarwal during the announcement. "Students can get that from books or from online. The real value is in helping students learn, how you process the information, what are the ethics of collaboration, how do you collaborate, work together in groups, how do you debate about things, how do you think about things, how do you learn how to learn — those are the important concepts that professors should be teaching students." edX courses, he added, could be considered as "the next-generation textbook."

Agarwal acknowledged that the move to integrate edX usage into mainstream college classrooms is a nod by the non-profit organization to the idea that it needs to be "self-sustaining over the long term." Although details haven't been worked out," he said, edX is considering development of "some kind of licensing model" with a fee attached.

With the blended model of learning being tested at San Jose State, he said, "We can take these edX courses and offer them on your campus, [and it] becomes new way to think about how to use this rich content and really change the whole classroom experience."

This summer the university will open a new Center for Excellence in Adaptive and Blended Learning, led by Professor Ping Hsu, in the department of electrical engineering. San Jose State reported the center would start by sharing what it has learned from the pilot with engineering faculty members at 11 other California State universities offering the same gateway course. Over time, however, the center "could grow to serve all of the nearly 22,000 faculty members" in the system, who teach 426,000 students.

By then the university will also have some results from a new program that started in January 2013, in which San Jose State students may take courses for credit delivered through MOOC provider Audacity. In this case, according to the campus, the foundational instruction provided by two math classes and one statistics class — all delivered fully online — will help students succeed in college.

Gavin Newsom was on hand for today's announcement. The California Lt. Governor observed that now that he was father of two young children, he could see how they were "wired differently" by their abilities with mobile computing devices. "These digital natives cannot be educated like we were educated. This model of education that has served us extremely well for 500 years has now run its course."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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