Higher Education Quick Takes

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Tuesday, February 5, 2013 - 3:00am

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."

DeMillo added that he believed that the small group discussion feature, when it works, will be useful in many MOOCs.


Tuesday, February 5, 2013 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Robert Heverly of Albany Law School explores the legal implications surrounding differing definitions of the Internet. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


Tuesday, February 5, 2013 - 3:00am

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.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 - 4:14am

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."


Tuesday, February 5, 2013 - 3:00am

Inside Higher Ed's Cartoon Caption Contest chugs along this month, with a new drawing to brainstorm about, three new captions for December's cartoon to vote on, and a winning caption from November.

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.

Monday, February 4, 2013 - 3:00am

Rutgers University will announce today a new center that will focus on research and education to help vulnerable young people making the transition to college. The center will be named for Tyler Clementi, the gay Rutgers freshman who killed himself two years ago after his roommate recorded his meeting with a man, and broadcast it to others. The center will focus on issues of cyberbullying and the challenges facing young gay people, but will not be limited to those issues. Clementi's parents are backing the new effort and working on it with Rutgers.

Monday, February 4, 2013 - 3:00am

Officials of the Palestinian Authority, which does not control Gaza, are criticizing Al-Aqsa University, which is located there, for adopting a dress code for female students, Ma'an reported. Women will be required to wear "Islamic" attire, but officials said that need not be a full body or head covering, but must involve modesty. The university says that the vast majority of women on campus already dress appropriately, and that lectures would be used to encourage others to change their attire. Palestinian Authority officials said that the rules conflict with guarantees of personal freedom that are part of Palestinian law.


Monday, February 4, 2013 - 3:00am

Curry College waited almost a week to tell the campus that a student had reported a "group rape" in a dormitory, The Boston Globe reported. The victim reported the attack on January 22, three men were arrested on January 25, and the college notified students and others on January 28. A college spokeswoman said that Curry's policy is to notify the campus if alleged assailants are unknown and that in this case they were known. (Two of them are former students.) Curry is now reviewing its policies. A summary of federal reporting requirements -- by the Clery Center for Security on Campus -- notes that colleges are required to report incidents based on whether a threat may be posed to students, and based on the seriousness of a crime.

Monday, February 4, 2013 - 3:00am

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.

Monday, February 4, 2013 - 3:00am

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.


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