Need-to-Know News: Lackluster MOOCs, Disengaged College Grads and ThinkCERCA

In this ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series my aim is to share noteworthy stories that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education and K-12 that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform traditional education as we know it.

logo_mainIn this post I’ve included two interesting developments from this week and a new web 2.0 resource for K-12 educators. First off, it likely will be of no surprise to readers that numerous higher ed institutions are becoming disillusioned with MOOCs. State and institutional leaders are realizing that MOOCs are not the answer to lowering costs and improving access for undergraduate education.  I also cover results from a study that suggests that undergraduates are not enjoying their jobs once they graduate, in fact they are more disengaged than non-degree earners. And, I share an innovative platform for K-12 educators designed to teach critical thinking, and support common core standards.

1)  MOOCs in Undergraduate Higher Education
It seems that MOOCs are beginning to lose their luster. This week San Jose State University [SJSU] announced it would pause the working relationship with Udacity.  San Jose State partnered with Udacity last year to create three online courses, a remedial math course, a college algebra course and an introductory statistics course. It has not gone well. Several factors have contributed, but I believe the primary reason is the fact that entry-level undergraduate students, especially students requiring remediation, do not have the skills required to be successful in a MOOC. Furthermore these students require considerable instructional support, faculty feedback and skill development in how to learn in an online environment.

“Preliminary findings from the spring semester suggest students in the online Udacity courses, which were developed jointly with San Jose State faculty, do not fare as well as students who attended normal classes.” (Rivard, 2013)

Insight: SJSU pilot project is a costly mistake. Not only was the deal that SJSU struck with Udacity a significant expense, students’ learning was compromised. SJSU rushed into the project without a strategic plan or conducting an analysis, and are now suffering the consequences. Online courses [not MOOCs] can work for college students and are effective, however careful and thoughtful planning, detailed course development is critical, as is instructional support. Why San Jose State would think offering remedial and entry-level courses in a MOOC would work is beyond me.

2) College-educated Americans Disengaged with Work
A most interesting report released this week by Gallup’s State of the American Workplace Report found that employed Americans of all ages with college degrees are less likely to be engaged at work than are their respective peers with a high school education or less.

The engagement findings by education level are based on Americans’ assessments of workplace elements with proven linkages to performance outcomes, including productivity, customer service, quality, retention, safety, and profit”. (


Insight: At least half of graduates are working in jobs that don’t require a degree, which likely accounts for low-levels of workplace engagement. A workforce of disengaged workers is not a sign of a healthy or productive economy, nor is it good for individuals’ health and well-being. There are several ways to interpret these results. One is that workplaces are failing to provide environments that are stimulating; where workers can apply their skills. Another, is that colleges may not be preparing students to transition into the workplace as well as they could be. There is much discussion about the value of higher education, and how its purpose is far more than for vocational opportunities— agreed. However there is an opportunity for life skills education that could help students realize their full potential as they transition from college to the working world.

3) ThinkCERCA
A Method: Our focus on argumentation as a method for teaching critical thinking is a simple way to increase rigorous engagement with all sorts of texts. Simply by treating all texts as arguments we allow readers to take an analytic approach.

A Platform: Our platform allows teachers and students to collaborate more effectively by sharing a common language and set of practices that focus instruction on critical thinking.

A Library: ThinkCERCA™ allows teachers to collaborate more easily by providing a simple framework for sharing, using, and personalizing lessons. Our content library is CCSS aligned and engaging for students.

Until next week. In the meantime you can keep posted on articles I find of interest which I post on Twitter @OnlineLearningI.