Working parents juggle a lot. Single working parents juggle so much, they tire of answering the question everyone always asks: “How on earth do you…
Ah, those dreaded prerequisites.
So you’ve made the big decision to go back to school. But before you can dive into the really cool courses at the heart of the degree you’re pursuing, you need to brush up on your math skills or get some biology credits.
There’s a push to get more introductory classes available cheaply online.
The Open Learning Initiative
Founded in 2002, OLI offers web-based courses in biology, chemistry, anatomy and physiology, engineering statics and a handful of other subjects—those so-called “weed-out” courses that can trip up even good students due to the breadth of new concepts that they cover.
“We’re seeing failure rates in these large introductory courses that are not acceptable to anybody. There has to be a better way to get more students—irrespective of where they start—to be able to successfully complete,” Thille tells The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Faculty subject experts, learning researchers and software engineers have built the online courses, which give students immediate feedback and tailor the content to their skills.
Thille—the latest education leader featured in The Chronicle’s Tech Innovators series—says OLI software “mimics human tutors.”
For professors, there’s a “dashboard” to help them track how students are grasping different concepts.
Some buy it, some don’t
Instructors at more than two dozen schools offer OLI courses. Some of them are free, some charge low lab or “maintenance” fees.
The OLI website has prominent disclaimers that it does not certify that students have completed its courses. To get credit, you have to make arrangements with the school you’re attending or hope to attend.
There are plenty of skeptics out there. Many professors, of course, are leery of teaching courses they didn’t create. Some question the limits and features of even the best-designed educational software and how they compare to the physical classroom.
Software is “very good at prompting the students to go step by step, and ‘do this’ and ‘do that,’ and all these bells and whistles with hints,” Chad Taylor, an assistant professor at Harper College, said at an OLI presentation covered by The Chronicle. “But the problem is, in my classroom they’re not prompted step by step.”
A tipping point?
Educational-technology innovations used to drive up a school’s costs per student, but now we may have reached a point where “interactive online systems ‘could change that equation,’” William G. Bowen, president emeritus of Princeton University, tells The Chronicle.
Bowen and William J. Baumol are known for their research on higher education’s “cost disease,” the notion that the costs of labor-intensive efforts like classroom teaching inevitably rise faster than inflation.
Read about other online education debates in these blog posts: