Does It Matter If You Meet Your Classmates Face-To-Face?
Readers of my blog know that I’ve been interested in the extent to which online learners stick with their learning. The conversation got kicked off by a recent New York Times article that reported that less than 10 percent of people who sign up for a MOOC (massive open online course) finish it.
Katie Kormanik is a math education specialist at Udacity, one of the most prominent online learning companies. In a piece on the website EdSource, Kormanik describes the company’s efforts to make MOOCs more engaging:
“So far MOOCs have been an exploration of unknown territory, pushing the frontiers of how we teach and learn. A new pilot program between San José State University (SJSU) and Udacity, one of the leading MOOC providers, aims to determine the effectiveness of three specially designed MOOCs compared to the university’s traditional classes.
. . . Many people still doubt that online education can equip students with skills and knowledge as well as or better than traditional in-person schooling, especially in the absence of direct student-instructor interaction. However, ‘interaction’ takes many forms. MOOCs provide constant quizzes, which keep students thinking; instant feedback, so students know immediately if they understand the material; dynamic visuals, keeping students engaged; guest lecturers (via video); and the ability to collaborate online with thousands of peers, some of whom may choose to meet in person to learn the material.
Students can ask questions about the coursework on Udacity’s online forum, and popular questions will be answered in supplemental videos. SJSU students taking the course for credit also have direct contact with the SJSU professors and myself, as well as Udacity staff who are available 24/7.
The SJSU-Udacity pilot statistics course began last week with more than 3,000 students registered. In regular MOOCs, around 5 to 10 percent complete the courses (but this percentage does not include the additional tens of thousands who benefited from pieces of the course and who were not intent on completing the whole thing).
With this pilot program, we hope that completion rates will be equal to or better than those of the in-person versions of these courses.” (Read more here.)
Perhaps this is an arcane interest of mine, but I’m really curious about whether the very different experiences of attending a class in person and taking a course on one’s computer will yield different levels or kinds of learning.
One model I’ve read about recently, for example, has students meet in person as a class several times before completing the rest of the course online. Research suggests that encountering one’s instructor and classmates in person even just once or twice facilitates the connections among them for the remainder of the course.
What do you think—does it make a difference if you meet your professor and your classmates face-to-face?