Earlier this year, MOOC provider Udacity joined forces with San Jose State University (SJSU) to offer three low-cost pilot courses in remedial and entry-level math to 300 students. However, shortly after the program was instituted at Oakland Military Institute (OMI), educators identified several issues with the pilot courses, according to the Oakland Tribune. In order to use the online program at home, students would need high-speed Internet and a computer to access the materials. As it turns out, some of the low-income students enrolled in the program didn't have computer at home or the broadband connection necessary to log into the courses. To combat this, the charter school issued laptops, gave the students class time to work, and provided teachers to help them stay on task.
Ciara Lowry, a junior at OMI, appreciated the additional help. "Without having a class period to do it, I wouldn't have done as well," she told the Oakland Tribune. Thanks to the new measures taken by administration, Lowry was able to successfully complete a college-level statistics course through the online pilot program.
OMI has more than 700 enrolled students, and about 45 participated in the Udacity courses. The school dedicated its computer lab to the program, with an instructor on hand to monitor students and answer questions. It was so time consuming that the faculty member, Omar Solache, needed an additional educator to help him handle the students. "They're so used to having teachers right there with them," said Solache.
If nothing else, the SJSU pilot program may show educators that some students require more assistance regardless of the learning platform. A lack of technology at home can keep many from optimizing their learning, but increased accessed to computer labs and education technology at school may help low-income students enjoy all the benefits of emerging digital resources, without the price tag.
It's hard to say right now whether the initial courses were successful, as no final grades have been released yet. While the cost of providing laptops to enrollees will not come cheap, if student learning is positively impacted, isn't the online option worth it?
Lowry, for one, enjoyed the experience. "It was still difficult, but we had a lot of support," she said. "I didn't have to spend any money on it, and I'll get college credit."
"San Jose State's online college course experiment reveals hidden costs," Oakland Tribune via San Jose Mercury News, June 2, 2013, Katy Murphy, http://www.mercurynews.com/portal/bachelor/education/ci_23366281/online-college-course-experiment-reveals-hidden-costs?_loopback=1