In television parlance, a pilot is a single episode that’s made in order to pitch a new show to networks. Depending on the response of executives, the pilot will either become a full season of episodes or fade away into obscurity.
While it has nothing to do with television, an educational pilot follows the same reasoning. It’s created to gauge interest in a particular type of school program, and just like a television pilot—if the test run isn’t successful, the education pilot disappears. But if it finds an audience, then more programs like the pilot will be created.
In an effort to expand online degree programs in California, Governor Jerry Brown has asked Udacity, a provider of massive open online courses (MOOCs), to partner with San Jose State University (SJSU). This partnership will begin with three courses and is limited to 300 students in total. The courses will be developed by SJSU professors in conjunction with Udacity, who will provide “course mentors” to help encourage and monitor student progress.
Timothy White, Chancellor of the California State University system, called the partnership a “step forward,” stating, "This is an important day in American higher education." With MOOCs a topic of discussion all over the country, any program that helps test their ability to deliver quality education will be highly instructive. It may also help with rising tuition costs and bloated class rosters. Chancellor White says that, if this pilot is successful, it could help expand access to what are called “bottleneck” classes. These are the general education courses that all students need to take, which tend to fill up rather quickly.
The program could also help reduce costs for students. The SJSU/Udacity pilot venture will only charge participants $150 per course. Many students would pay more than that per unit at a state college or university. It will also be unique because of the fact that students not enrolled in SJSU will be allowed to take the courses. Of the 300 students who will take part in the courses, half of them will be from surrounding community colleges and high schools.
If successful, this program has the chance to authenticate the ability of MOOCs to provide a quality education to students for a minimal price. It will also ensure that students can take courses when they need them, instead of missing opportunities due to enrollment restrictions.
“Governor Jerry Brown, Udacity Announce Pilot Program for $150 Classes,” edsurge.com, January 14, 2013, Kris Hattori
“Jerry Brown touts online education pilot at San Jose State,” blogs.sacbee.com, January 15, 2013, David Siders