By Phil Hill
After a great deal of publicity from their spring and summer pilots, San Jose State University has just announced that they will offer three of the courses again in Spring 2014 – but with a twist. On the surface, the announcement sounds like a continuation of the pilot.
This spring, San Jose State will offer three online courses that were developed with Udacity to SJSU and California State University students.
San Jose State students are registering now for Elementary Statistics, Introduction to Programming and General Psychology. In addition, the programming and statistics courses will be open to all CSU students through the CSU’s CourseMatch program.
But after digging deeper, it really appears that this is an effort to separate without admitting failure or making either side look bad. There are some significant changes here:
- Udacity is no longer being paid for the courses;
- All the course content is free and open to SJSU and CSU faculty;
- The for-credit course content will be on Udacity platform but faculty interactions and assessments will be run on SJSU’s official LMS (Canvas); and
- SJSU will provide the teaching assistants.
Meanwhile, Udacity will keep the courses available on its platform for non-credit students.
The SJSU instructors who originally developed the programming and psychology courses with Udacity will continue to teach these classes to SJSU and CSU students this spring. The statistics course will be transitioned to a different SJSU instructor in the same department. SJSU will hire and train teaching assistants as needed. All faculty members and students will use SJSU’s learning management system, Canvas.
For anyone who has followed the Udacity story of late, the failure of the SJSU pilots was perhaps the biggest factor in Sebastian Thrun’s decision to pivot his company away from for-credit higher education, as described in Fast Company [emphasis added].
Viewed within this frame, the results were disastrous. Among those pupils who took remedial math during the pilot program, just 25% passed. And when the online class was compared with the in-person variety, the numbers were even more discouraging. A student taking college algebra in person was 52% more likely to pass than one taking a Udacity class, making the $150 price tag–roughly one-third the normal in-state tuition–seem like something less than a bargain. The one bright spot: Completion rates shot through the roof; 86% of students made it all the way through the classes, better than eight times Udacity’s old rate. (The program is supposed to resume this January; for more on the pilot, see “Mission Impossible.”)
But for Thrun, who had been wrestling over who Udacity’s ideal students should be, the results were not a failure; they were clarifying. “We were initially torn between collaborating with universities and working outside the world of college,” Thrun tells me. The San Jose State pilot offered the answer. “These were students from difficult neighborhoods, without good access to computers, and with all kinds of challenges in their lives,” he says. “It’s a group for which this medium is not a good fit.”
So the SJSU / Udacity saga has reached its end game.
Update (12/18): While I still believe this move is the end game for the SJSU / Udacity pilot, there is a detail that I got wrong. The course materials themselves will be hosted on Udacity, even for SJSU and CSU students, while all faculty interaction and testing will move to Canvas. I have corrected the bullet point above. This information is based on today’s IHE article:
The spring semester courses will be available to all students in the California State University System. San Jose State has reserved half of the seats in the statistics and programming courses for its own students. The courses will still be hosted on Udacity, but students will use Canvas, a learning management system created by Instructure, to communicate with instructors and take exams, said Clarissa Shen, Udacity’s vice president of strategic business and marketing. The MOOC provider will also collect data about how students engage with the courses. “So, no, not walking away,” Shen said in an email.