Higher Education Quick Takes
When word spread this weekend that a massive open online course about online education had to be suspended due to technology problems that left many students angry, officials from Coursera and the Georgia Institute of Technology were not available for comment. In interviews Monday, however, officials of both Coursera and Georgia Tech confirmed that the major issue concerned the ability of the 41,000 students to discuss topics in small groups, and that the technology for that feature indeed was not working. The officials also said that they were confident that fixes would be made in a short time period, and that the course would then continue.
Richard A. DeMillo, director of Georgia Tech's Center for 21st Century Universities, said that officials were "not seeing any insurmountable problems" with the technology. There wasn't enough time to test the features for group discussions, he said. Asked if such testing should have taken place, DeMillo said that it was important to put the issue in perspective. "In a bricks and mortar course, it would have taken months to identify and make changes." DeMillo said it was important to let instructors experiment. "If we tell people to just do safe things, we'll stifle innovation," he said.
Andrew Ng, a co-founder of Coursera, said that the experiment using Google Docs for small group discussions "didn't work well enough," but was "really innovative." He said Coursera is continuing to work on quality control mechanisms that can be used before course launches. But he added that "I'm proud we let instructors experiment with different formats."
York University, in Toronto, announced on Monday that it had received more than $4.5 million from the Canadian International Development Agency to lead the Borderless Higher Education for Refugees (BHER) project in Dadaab, Kenya. York is one of four universities -- along with Moi and Kenyatta Universities, in Kenya, and the University of British Columbia -- participating in the initiative, which aims to provide higher education to primary and secondary school teachers in the six refugee camps on the Kenya-Somalia border. The BHER organizers are focusing on education for teachers – who in many cases have completed only primary or secondary school themselves – with the objective of indirectly improving the quality of education for thousands of their students.
Don Dippo, a professor of education at York, explained that the first cohort of 200 teachers/students will be admitted this summer for a foundation year program. Following the foundation year, the participating universities have committed to offer various two-year diploma and three- or four-year degree programs. The programs will be delivered through a hybrid of face-to-face and online instruction.
BHER's organizers expect to enroll 200 new students a year, for a total of 1,000, over the five-year term of the grant.
The Common Application has released its new essay prompts -- which have been the subject of some concern because of the elimination of a "free choice" essay topic and the announcement that the length limit would be strictly enforced. The new essay prompts do stress that the length limit will be strictly enforced, but the stated limit is now 650 words, not the earlier pledge of 500 words.
Scott Anderson, director of outreach for the Common Application, said that the change to 650 words was based on "feedback from counselors."
While the prompts do not include the completely open option, the first one is quite broad and would appear to give students wide leeway to write about topics of their choice. The new prompts are:
- "Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story."
- "Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?"
- "Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?"
- "Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?"
- "Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family."
To submit your captions for February's cartoon, please click here. The three entries deemed most clever and creative by our experts' panel will be put to a vote by our readers, and the winner will receive a $100 Amazon gift certificate and a copy of the cartoon signed by Matthew Henry Hall, the artist.
Click here to vote on the three captions nominated as finalists for our December cartoon.
And congratulations to the winner of the Cartoon Caption Contest for November, Joe Broderick, grants facilitator for social and behavioral sciences and international programs at Rutgers University. Find out more about him and his submission here.
Dennis Trotter resigned as president of Hastings College Monday over what board leaders called "philosophical differences," The Grand Island Independent reported. Trotter had served only 18 months as president. Don Jackson, who was named as the new president, said that Trotter and the board agreed on goals for the college, but not how to achieve them.
U.S. News & World Report announced Monday that it will not change the ranking of Bucknell University even though the institution submitted false data on SAT and ACT averages for several years. When the actual numbers are used, U.S. News says, the changes are so small that they would not change the university's ranking. Bucknell is the fifth college or university to report having submitted false data. U.S. News has moved to "unranked" institutions where the false figures were so different from the real figures that they would have made a difference in the ranking.
The president of the Syracuse University Alumni Association resigned his position last week to protest the university's failure to put a representative of the association on the search committee looking for the replacement for Chancellor Nancy Cantor, The Syracuse Post-Standard reported. Brian Spector, the alumni leader, said he considered it "unacceptable" that the search committee lacked an official alumni representative. Richard L. Thompson, chair of the Syracuse board, noted that many of the search committee members are alumni. But he added that "no member of the chancellor search committee was appointed to represent any particular organization."
More than half of the 125 students investigated in a cheating scandal at Harvard University have been told to withdraw for up to a year, Bloomberg reported. Half of those remaining were placed on probation. The investigations and punishments have drawn considerable attention, and some have questioned whether cheating really took place. Critics have said that students were not given clear guidance on the forms of collaboration that were permitted and those that were banned.
Moody's Investors Service downgraded 34 higher education institutions in 2012 while upgrading only 3, the ratings agency reported Friday, an indicator of ongoing financial challenges facing colleges and universities. Analysts chalked up the downgrades to problems raising net tuition revenue, continued state budget cuts, and enrollment troubles. "Of the seven public universities whose ratings were downgraded in the fourth quarter, five had declines in total full-time equivalent student enrollment," the report notes. Prominent downgrades included the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education and Pennsylvania State University.