Harvard University on Monday sent a letter to thousands of alumni, asking them to volunteer to serve as discussion leaders for a new massive open online course based on a class they took at the university, The New York Times reported. The professor who teaches "The Ancient Greek Hero," said he was thrilled with the idea of a MOOC reaching many more students than he could in Cambridge. But Claudia Filos, editor of content and social media for the course, said that there was a need for more help with discussions. She said that, in some MOOCs, discussions "tend to run off the rails." Alumni who volunteer will be screened before taking on duties monitoring and helping to guide discussions.
CourseSmart, a company that provides online course materials, said it has now partnered with 100 campus learning management systems and campus portals to provide content to students.
That, officials at the six-year-old company said, makes it the industry leader in this space. The company offers 40,000 electronic textbooks from more than 50 publishers, including Pearson and McGraw-Hill Education. Cindy Clarke, the senior vice president of marketing at CourseSmart, said the company’s online offering plugs right into different learning portals, including Blackboard, Desire2Learn, Pearson LearningStudio, Moodle and custom software created by some universities. By integrating its offerings with such portals, the company can give students at the different institutions immediate access to the course materials it sells alongside other class materials posted by instructors and used by students.
Now, the company is beta testing an analytics package, Clarke said. The goal is to produce a program to track how and if students are using materials to let educators see how engaged students are.
Simba, which analyzes publishing trends, predicts the overall market for digital course materials will account for 14 percent of the textbook market by 2014, CourseSmart said.
The University of Melbourne is a member of Coursera, one of the primary (and U.S.-based) platforms for massive open online courses. But an all-Australian MOOC platform was launched today, The Conversation reported. Several universities are already signed up to offer free courses through the platform, called Open2Study.
The top two leaders of the University of California System Academic Senate on Friday released a letter expressing "grave concerns" about California legislation proposed last week to require the state's public higher education systems to grant transfer credit for courses or programs provided by an approved pool of providers, potentially including programs that are for-profit and have never been accredited. Supporters of the plan say that it will deal with the state's serious capacity issues in which qualified students can't get into the courses they need to graduate.
Robert L. Powell, the chair of the system's Academic Senate, and Bill Jacob, the vice chair, on Friday released a joint letter reacting to the proposal. The letter stated that the leaders of the Academic Senate were not consulted as the legislation was drafted, and went on to identify several concerns.
The faculty leaders state: "First, limits on student access to the courses this bill targets are in large part the result of significant reductions in public state higher education funding, especially over the last six years. Second, the clear self-interest of for profit corporations in promoting the privatization of public higher education through this legislation is dismaying. In fact, UC’s graduation rates and time to degree performance show that access to courses for our students is not an acute issue as it may be in the other segments. Lastly, the faculty of the University of California, through the Academic Senate, approves courses for credit at the University and reviews courses offered for transfer credit to determine whether they cover the same material with equal rigor. There is no possibility that UC faculty will shirk its responsibility to our students by ceding authority over courses to any outside agency."
The letter adds that the "Academic Senate is committed to exploring how important measures of student success, such as graduation rates and time-to-degree, can be improved." And the letter notes that faculty leaders have backed initiatives that include the expansion of online course offerings by the university. But the letter stressed the role of professors. "There is no alternative to the deep involvement of faculty in courses and curricula and the validation provided by rigorous and continuing review of these," it says.
New research at York University in Canada both confirms and extends the concerns of many faculty members about laptop use in class. The research found that undergraduates who multitask on laptops comprehend less of what has been covered in a lecture than do other students. That part is unlikely to surprise most professors. But the study also examined students who were taking notes -- with some students sitting next to those who were multitasking on their laptops. Those next to a laptop multitasker also saw drops in what they picked up from the lecture. The findings have been published in the journal Computers & Education.
The University of California at Irvine is offering video and course materials for all required courses for a chemistry major plus some electives and graduate courses, online and free. Open Chemistry does not provide credit or a laboratory experience, but Irvine says that the material could be used by anyone trying to learn chemistry, and that other institutions could provide laboratory experience or testing to certify learning. Single courses have been provided in the past, and have gained followings online, but Open Chemistry is designed to go further. "That is the key innovation: making a full undergraduate education’s worth of classes available for immediate incorporation in part or in full by institutions of higher education or by individual professors," says a website for the program.
Harvard University secretly searched the e-mail accounts of 16 resident deans -- administrators who work with students on academic and other issues -- trying to identify the source of a leak about the university's cheating scandal, The Boston Globe reported. The news surprised and concerned some at Harvard. The university did not explicitly confirm that it engaged in the secret searches. But the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Michael Smith, issued a statement saying: "Harvard College would take all necessary and appropriate actions under our procedures to safeguard the integrity of that process, which is designed to protect the rights of our students to privacy and due process,” the statement read. And Jeff Neal, a university spokesman, appeared to acknowledge the incident when he denied that e-mail is regularly checked, telling the Globe that "any assertion that Harvard routinely monitors e-mails – for any reason – is patently false."