Recommended Reading: WCET Survey Report and Tony Bates Commentary

WCET released its survey results on the price and costs of online education last week, focusing on US higher education, and it has caused quite a stir due to the headline, first-look analysis. As Inside Higher Ed described in the article “Online Education Costs More, Not Less”:

The myth that online education courses cost less to produce and therefore save students money on tuition doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, a survey of distance education providers found.

While there is value in countering a myth held by many state legislators and policy makers that online education is a surefire way to save money – and the report does shoot down this myth – it is unfortunate that most of the public discussion is based on the oversimplified summary described above and and entirely-justified pushback that online education does not have to cost more.

The report itself tackles the difficult subject of price (what a student pays) and costs (what it takes to produce) of online vs. face-to-face education with much more nuance and information that gets lost in the conversation. In particular, the “demographics” section is laudable as one of the best description of survey respondents and how this response compares to national averages. And there is text noting discrepancies and limitations to the survey results.  Continue reading

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Vert Capital and Scriba Corp: Institutions losing course data in company’s death throes

After last year’s disastrous outage at UC Davis due to Scriba Corp’s change of data center for the Sakai LMS (branded as SmartSite at UC Davis), it turns out that there is more damage to be done as the company slowly disappears. What appears to have happened in the past few months is that Scriba has not been paying this new data center provider (IO Data Centers), and that company is withholding the data on its servers until the issue is resolved. The end result is that several remaining Scriba customers have lost not just a live Sakai site but also the underlying current and historic course data. In at least one case, this dispute has caused a distance education program to be halted until the school figures out how to set up a new LMS site and to recreate their course content.

Based on two people familiar with Scriba’s recent operations, despite several remaining schools continuing to pay hosting fees, Scriba was not fully paying IO Data Centers. While I have no information on whether there was a legitimate complaint or whether this was simply non-payment to save cash while Scriba died, I will point out that last Spring Scriba’s contract with the Apereo Foundation to remain a commercial affiliate was cancelled under similar circumstances. Scriba simply stopped paying Apereo until the foundation’s board voted to terminate their contract. Continue reading

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Ellucian Stops Support for Brainstorm, its CBE platform

In a surprise move, Ellucian has decided to end support for Brainstorm, the competency-based education (CBE) platform it acquired from Helix Education two years ago. All Brainstorm customers are being notified of the end-of-life and aggressive measures are being used to help these customers quickly migrate to alternative platforms.

Ellucian staff contacted me to share the general news of ending Brainstorm support. The stated reason for this change is that Ellucian perceives that there is insufficient market demand for full CBE programs, with many schools looking to ease into CBE in a minimalist fashion (I’m paraphrasing here). Brainstorm was designed primarily for non seat-time courses that are fully based on a competency framework and self-paced student access. We have covered Brainstorm / Helix on these issues here, including this observation:

One educational model that is becoming more and more important is competency-based education (CBE). One of the challenges for this model is that the traditional LMS – based on a traditional model using grades, seat time and synchronous cohort of students – is not easily adapted to serve CBE needs.

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Scaling Educational Access

There’s an interesting piece in EdSurge about the potential access to education challenge that CUNY will face if Governor Cuomo makes good on his proposal to make college tuition free:

According to the CUNY 2016 Student Experience Survey, 21 percent of the system’s community college students were not able to take required courses, most citing “lack of seat availability” as the reason. In an interview, George Otte, CUNY’s director of academic technology, described the “bottleneck” created by course shortages. Students were not able to take required courses because demand for space exceeded capacity—a problem that could get worse if more free tuition-seekers pour in. “We have always had lots of enrollment, which is one of the reasons I think we were late to the online course offerings. Our mission was never to gain students from the outside,” he explains, “but we are just beginning to realize that this has an enormous impact on capacity.”

“The real challenge is that eligibility is predicated on full-time enrollment,” Otte says, citing a caveat community colleges cannot ignore. Without taking 15 hours a semester, which equals full-time enrollment, students are not elible for Gov. Cuomo’s free tuition program—the Excelsior Scholarship. However, at least half of community college students work full-time. It is unlikely that such a population can opt-in to campus-based instruction that requires them to commute and show up for courses offered only at, say, 9 a.m. or 4 p.m.

It turns out that we’ve done a lot of work in this area, particularly in the state of California, and have some lessons learned that are worth sharing.

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Understanding Learning Science and Its Value to Educators


In a world where we are constantly barraged with product claims about “learning science,” most educators have very little sense of what that really means and how it is relevant to what they do. I was lucky enough to be able to hear from and interview some actual academic learning sciences last year at Carnegie Mellon University’s Simon Initiative. The trip itself was paid for by CMU—I was part of a group of “media fellows”—and the video production was paid for by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The result was a trio of interview videos that I’m particularly pleased to share. Continue reading

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