The Agenda

Why the SJSU/Udacity Experiment Went Awry

Though a full report won’t be issued until next month, Anya Kamenetz offers thoughts on why the recent collaboration between Udacity, the for-profit higher education start-up, and San Jose State University went awry.

1. Many of the students enrolled in the SJSU/Udacity experiment didn’t have access to computers or the Internet at home.

2. The courses were assembled on the fly, and this created a great deal of confusion. Though students were given access to live tutoring, many didn’t know actually actually know it until the courses were well underway.

3. And the third problem Anya identifies might have been the most important:

Students in these courses didn’t have face-to-face support from qualified instructors, as they would in the classroom. They also didn’t really have the leisure to explore their curiosity or to work at their own pace, as they would in a truly open online learning environment, because the course was shoehorned into a traditional 12-week semester with deadlines, exams and grades—a factor that probably contributes to the generally poor completion rates of MOOCs as well.

The failure of the SJSU/Udacity experiment has led to a great deal of schadenfreude from online education skeptics, which is why it is enormously frustrating that SJSU/Udacity were so careless in rolling out these courses. But the incentives to keep pursuing blended learning strategies remain very strong.

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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