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Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics: WCET’s analysis of distance education enrolments in the USA

Tony Bates - 15 Marzo, 2015 - 23:55

Russell Poulin and Terri Straut have done an invaluable analysis of recent data on distance education enrolments in the USA in the following three blog posts:

Straut, T. and Poulin, R. (2015) IPEDS Fall 2013: Higher Ed Sectors Vary Greatly in Distance Ed Enrollments Boulder CO: Western Co-operative for Educational Technologies

Straut, T. and Poulin, R. (2015) IPEDS Fall 2013: Distance Education Data Reveals More Than Overall Flat Growth Boulder CO: Western Co-operative for Educational Technologies

Straut, T. and Poulin, R. (2015) IPEDS Fall 2013: Less than Half of Fully Distant Students Come from Other States Boulder CO: Western Co-operative for Educational Technologies

These reports should be read in conjunction with these equally valuable posts:

Hill, P. and Poulin, R. (2014) Investigation of IPEDS Distance Education Data: System Not Ready for Modern Trends Boulder CO: Western Co-operative for Educational Technologies/e-Literate

Allen, I.E. and Seaman, J. (2013) Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States  Wellesley MA: Babson College/Quahog Research Group

I am pulling this together in this one post for convenience, but I strongly recommend that you read carefully the original reports.

There are serious methodological issues in the USA data

Over the last ten years or so, the most consistent analyses of enrolments in online learning have been the annual Babson College surveys conducted by Elaine Allen and Jeff Seaman, with support from the Sloan Foundation. However, this was a voluntary survey, based on a carefully drawn sample of chief academic officers across the USA. The Babson Surveys showed consistent growth of online course enrolments in the order of 10-20 per cent per annum over a the last 10 years, compared with around 2-3 per cent growth in on-campus enrolments, with in 2013 approximately one third of all higher education students in the USA taking at least one fully online course.

However, since the Babson surveys were voluntary, sample-based and dependent on the good will of participating institutions, there was always a concern about the reliability of the data, and especially that the returns might be somewhat biased towards enrolments from institutions actively engaged in online learning, thus suggesting more online enrolments than in reality. Despite these possible limitations the Babson Surveys were invaluable because they provided a comparable set of national data across several years. So while the actual numbers may be a little shaky, the trends were consistent.

Then in 2012 the U.S. Federal Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) survey, conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, a division of the U.S. Federal Department of Education, for the first time included distance education in its compulsory annual survey of enrolments in higher education. (One might ask why it took until 2012 to ask for data on distance education, but hey, it’s a start.) Since this is a census rather than a survey, and since it is obligatory, one would expect that the IPEDS data would be more reliable than the Babson surveys.

However, it turns out that there are also major problems with the IPEDS survey. Phil Hill (of the blog e-Literate) and Russell Poulin have indicated the following limitations with IPEDS:

  • problems of definition: Babson focused only on students enrolled in fully online courses; IPEDS asks for enrolments in distance education. Although many institutions have moved their print-based courses online, there are still many print-based distance education courses still out there. How many? We don’t know. Also the IPEDS definition rules out reporting on blended or hybrid courses, and is not precise enough to ensure that different institutions don’t interpret who to include and who to exclude on a consistent basis
  • under-reporting: IPEDS collected data on the assumption that all students enrolled through continuing education departments were taking non-credit distance education courses, and therefore these enrolments were to be excluded. However, in many institutions, continuing education departments have continued to administer for-credit online courses, which institutions have seen as just another form of distance education. (In other institutions, distance education departments have been integrated with central learning technology units, and are thus included in enrolment counts.)
  • the IPEDS survey does not work for innovative programs such as those with continuous enrolments, competency-based learning, or hybrid courses.

Hill and Poulin come to the following conclusions about the 2012 survey:

  • we don’t know the numbers – there are too many flaws in the the data collection methods
  • thus the 2012 numbers are not a credible baseline for future comparisons
  • there are hundreds of thousands of students who have never been reported on any IPEDS survey that has ever been conducted.

It is against this background that we should now examine the recent analyses by Straut and Poulin on the IPEDS data for  2013. However, note their caveat:

Given the errors that we found in colleges reporting to IPEDS, the Fall 2012 distance education reported enrollments create a very unstable base for comparisons.

Main results for 2013

1. Most DE enrolments are in public universities

For those outside the USA, there are quite different types of HE institution, dependent on whether they are publicly funded or privately funded, and whether they operate for profit or not for profit. Distance education is often associated in the USA with diploma mills, or offered by for-profit private institutions, such as the University of Phoenix or Kaplan. As it turns out, this is a fundamental mis-conception. Nearly three-quarters of all DE enrolments are in publicly funded universities. Less than 10% of all DE enrolments are in for-profit private institutions.

2. Students studying exclusively at a distance

Students studying exclusively at a distance constitute about 13% of all enrolments. However, non-profits rely much more on distance students, who make up half their enrolments. Less than 10% of students in public universities are studying exclusively at a distance. The significance of this is that for most students in public universities, DE is a relatively small part of their studies, an option that they exercise occasionally and as needed, and is not seen as a replacement for campus-based studies. On the other hand, there is a substantial if small minority for whom DE is the only option, and for many of these, the for-profits are their the only option if their local public universities do not offer such programs in the discipline they want.

3. DE enrolments were down slightly in 2013

IPEDS shows an overall decrease in DE enrolments of 4% from 2012 to 2013. The biggest area was the for-profits, which declined by 17%. The drop in public universities for those taking fully online courses was a marginal 2%. However, this is a major difference from the trends identified by the Babson Surveys.

This is probably the most contentious of the conclusions, because the differences are relatively small and probably within the margin of error, given the unreliability of the data. The for-profit sector has been particularly badly hit by changes to federal financial aid for students.

However, I have been predicting that the rate of students taking fully online courses in the USA (and Canada) is likely to slow in the future for two reasons:

  • there is a limit to the market for fully online studies and after 10 years of fairly large gains, it is not surprising that the rate now appears to be slowing down
  • as more and more courses are offered in a hybrid mode, students have another option besides fully online for flexible study.

The counter trend is that public universities still have much more scope for increasing enrolments in fully online professional masters programs, as well as for certificates, diplomas and badges.

4. Students studying fully online are still more likely to opt for a local university

Just over half of all students enrolled exclusively in DE courses take their courses from within state. This figure jumps to between 75-90% for those enrolled in a public university. On the other hand, 70% of students enrolled in a DE course in a for-profit take their courses from out-of-state. This is not surprising, since although non-profits have to have their headquarters somewhere, they operate on a national basis.

The proportion of institutions reporting that they serve students who are outside the U.S. remains small, no more than 2% in any sector. This again may be a reporting anomaly, as 21% of institutions reported that they have students located outside the U.S. Probably of more concern is that many institutions did not report data on the location of their DE students. This may have something to do with the need for authorization for institutions to operate outside the home state, and this is a uniquely American can of worms that I don’t intend to open.

Not good, but it’s better than nothing

I have an uncomfortable feeling about the IPEDS data. It needs to be better, and it’s hard to draw any conclusions or make policy decisions on what we have seen so far.

However, it’s easy for someone outside the USA to criticise the IPEDS data, but at least it’s an attempt to measure what is an increasingly significant – and highly complex – area of higher education. We have nothing similar in Canada. At least the IPEDS data is likely to improve over time, as institutions press for clearer definitions, and are forced to collect better and more consistent data.

Also, I can’t praise too highly first of all Elaine Allen and Jeff Seaman for their pioneering efforts to collect data in this area, and Phil Hill, Russell Poulin and Terri Straut for guiding us through the minefield of IPEDS data.

I’m a 12-year-old girl. Why don’t the characters in my apps look like me?

OLDaily - 15 Marzo, 2015 - 17:42
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Madeline Messer, Washington Post, Mar 15, 2015

This article caught my eye not only because it flags a pervasive issue in the gaming community but because it also reflects considerable interest and initiative by a 12-year old net-generation student. The bad news first: "Of the apps that did have gender-identifiable characters, 98 percent offered boy characters. What shocked me was that only 46 percent offered girl characters. Even worse, of these 50 apps, 90 percent offered boy characters for free, while only 15 percent offered girl characters for free." In one app, Disney’ s Temple Run Oz, it costs $29.97 to become the only girl character. There's no excuse for this; it's outrageous, and companies like Disney are (knowingly) creating long term  problems with this sort of policy (one wonders what their  education products look like). The good news is in the response: Madeline Messer, a student in the 6th grade, is taking on this inequality with a damning exposé in the Washington Post. That's the good that internet access for all can do

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How Valve's secret meeting got devs on board with Steam VR

OLDaily - 15 Marzo, 2015 - 17:42
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Jessica Conditt, Engadget, Mar 15, 2015

If I had to place my wager on whether usable VR will be created by either sketchy Kickstarter start-up Oculus Rift or game developers Valve, I'd place my money on Valve? Why? Well, Valve didn't enter the world by  betraying its supporters, it has a strong history of game development, and it has a  21st century management style. Plus, there's the Winnipeg connection, which means the [project has strong Canadian genes. Also, their stuff appears to work really well (after all, it it doesn't create nausea in the woman eight-months pregnant with twins, it probably won't create nausea in me).

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Philosophical Investigations

OLDaily - 15 Marzo, 2015 - 17:42
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Ludwig Wittgenstein, Mar 15, 2015

If you've never read Philosophical Investigations you owe it to yourself to do so. This is not an easy book; it doesn't have a neat narrative and structure (though Wittgenstein's students tried to create one when assembling the notes from which it is comprised). Take your time with it, read only a few pages a day. Pause to think of the implications of passages like this one: "The more narrowly we examine actual language, the sharper becomes the conflict between it and our requirement... Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language." (paras 107, 109) Or this: "A main source of our failure to understand is that we do not command a clear view of the use of our words.— Our grammar is lacking in this sort of perspicuity. A perspicuous representation produces just that understanding which consists in 'seeing connexions'." (para 122)

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We Do Have Memories of the Future; We Just Cannot Make Sense of Them

OLDaily - 15 Marzo, 2015 - 17:42
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Stephane Rogeau, PhilSciArchive, Mar 15, 2015

This paper is a conceptual exercise but it's important in its implications. Basically the idea is that it is theoretically possible to have memories of the future, because our recall of a memory is decoupled with the mechanism that created the memory. In this paper, the author argues that we would not be able to make sense of these memories of future events. Maybe not. But we have false memories, inaccurate memories, and yes, could have memories of future events. And it points to the fact that our memories - even vivid recollections of events and experiences - are reconstructions of sensory experiences. When we remember, it's like we relive an experience - but this experience has been recreated from scratch in the mind, and then is experienced anew, so that in our mind we see and feel and hear the experience (this is what we call consciousness (cf phantom limbs)).

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Innovative MOOCs Take Learning in New Directions

OLDaily - 15 Marzo, 2015 - 17:42
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Dian Schaffhauser, Campus Technology, Mar 15, 2015

This article looks at a couple of specialized MOOC initiatives, one from the University of Michigan based on Coursera's expansion into China, and the other a non-MOOC MOOC initiative from Harvard on 'Small Private Online Courses' (SPOCs) directed toward alumni. The Michigan project is interesting, as the Chinese MOOC will yield a lot of new analytics data and will also enable instructors to hone their practice in a diverse environment. The SPOC work tells us some things we already knew: first, that email still works well as an engagement tool, and second, that online courses work well when they target already-established clubs or interest groups.

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Translation for massive open online courses to be developed by the traMOOC project

OLDaily - 15 Marzo, 2015 - 17:42
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Unattributed, Open Education Europa, Mar 15, 2015

According to this short report, "The traMOOC project launched in  February 2015 aims at tackling this impediment by developing high-quality automatic translation of various types of texts included in MOOCs from English into eleven European and BRIC languages." Automated translation is on the cusp of becoming everyday. In addition to the well-known Google project there are numerous focused research projects, including NRC's world-leading machine translation system called  Portage (which we will be integrating into LPSS). Where things really become interesting is when this is combined with speech recognition to create real-time video captioning. "The (traMOOC) project results will be showcased and tested on the Iversity MOOCplatform and on the VideoLectures.NET digital video lecture library." (Image)

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Walmart pledges $100 million to boost jobs

OLDaily - 15 Marzo, 2015 - 17:42
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Patricia Sellers, Fortune, Mar 15, 2015

This story is revealing because of what WalMart says about the initiative as it launches it: "'The education-to-employment system is broken,' says Walmart Foundation president Kathleen McLaughlin... Harvard Business School’ s Bridge the Gap report details the pressing need: 51% of retailers have trouble filling middle-skills roles." It would also be nice to see the company raise wages further to provide a stimulus for people; there's not a lot of incentive to take training for a $9/hour job, but a return to the days when a person could make a decent living working in a store would be a welcome change in the social landscape.

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$1.55M MOOC Project to Expand Global Education

OLDaily - 15 Marzo, 2015 - 17:42
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Kellye Whitney, At Whit's End, Mar 15, 2015

I think it's interesting that a course review site has achieved enough legitimacy to be able to use its data to develop a MOOC-centric training network (I'm less thrilled that international development funds are diverted to do this). But maybe it will provide a lasting benefit. "The  U.S. Agency for International Development  (USAID) and  CourseTalk.com, an online course review company, are launching a two-year, $1.55 million project to expand quality education and career training globally..." The Technology & Social Change Group "will analyze more than 70,000 course CourseTalk  reviews from students to study awareness and usage of MOOCs among 18 to 35 year olds in Colombia, the Philippines and South Africa."

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Coursera's Stiglitz: MOOC revolution is just beginning

OLDaily - 15 Marzo, 2015 - 17:42
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Roger Riddell, EducationDive, Mar 15, 2015

Coursera's  director of business and market development Julia Stiglit says the MOOC revolution is not over. "I think it’ s just beginning. I really do... It’ s something that’ s still evolving, but the place where I see Coursera and MOOCs in right now is in the space of lifelong learners, who are really looking for educational opportunities." I think that open online learning will continue, and maybe even a form created specifically for older learners who like traditional courses. My vision of the future of open online learning, though, is wider than this.

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Trends | Transforming Libraries

Educación flexible y abierta - 15 Marzo, 2015 - 13:53

The Center for the Future of Libraries works to identify trends relevant to libraries and librarianship. This trend library is available to help libraries and librarians understand how trends are developing and why they matter. Each trend is updated as new reports and articles are made available. New trends will be added as they are developed. 

 



See it on Scoop.it, via Educación flexible y abierta

Bob Braun Reports that Pearson Is Spying on Social Media of Students Taking PARCC Tests

OLDaily - 15 Marzo, 2015 - 05:36
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Diane Ravitch, Mar 15, 2015

The site that broke the story has  been "attacked and closed", but this is what Bob Braun wrote: "Pearson, the multinational testing and publishing company, is spying on the social media posts of students– including those from New Jersey– while the children are taking their PARCC, statewide tests." The original post is  here (link still down) and the full text of the article has been reposted here. The spying appears to be sanctioned by the Department of Education (DOE) in the U.S. also from Bob Braun: "Hmmmm. Coming to a school near you. http://www.tracx.com/... Pearson Streamlines Social Media Listening and Monitoring With Tracx." More from Daily Kos. Jersey Jazzman  says the story "proves the inferiority of their (Pearson's) products." After a bit of a delay, the story has broken on the Washington Post Blog and... well, that's it. More from Kevin Jarrett. Response from Watchung  Hills Superintendent Elizabeth Jewett.

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Enhancing the student digital experience: a strategic approach | Jisc

Educación flexible y abierta - 14 Marzo, 2015 - 23:57

Supporting institutions to develop digital environments which meet students’ expectations and help them to prepare for higher study and employment

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Course Design and Online Group Collaboration — What’s the Connection?

online learning insights - 14 Marzo, 2015 - 22:48
Facilitating group work in an online course for instructors is often the most challenging aspect of teaching an online class. The amount of time invested by students and the instructor in the group process can be significant; unfortunately there’s often more time spent on logistics of … Continue reading →

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