Magazine Article

San Jose State & Udacity partner for online education pilot program

Brian Ferguson
Managing Editor

The CSU is going online in a much bigger way than ever before.

In January, Chancellor Timothy White joined Gov. Jerry Brown and Sebastian Thrun, head of Silicon Valley start-up Udacity, to roll out a first-of-its-kind pilot program for online teaching at San Jose State.

The program called San Jose State Plus aims to harness principles of massive open online courses (MOOCs) and apply them to three courses in mathematics that are so-called ‘bottlenecks’ for students seeking degrees at San Jose—a remedial algebra course, a college-level algebra course and introductory statistics.

Citing long waiting lists and high failure rates in remedial courses, Gov. Brown pushed aggressively for the program noting at a launch event that the state’s public higher education systems must find a way to help people succeed and to buoy its aging workforce.

“This may be not the [whole] solution but a key part of the solution,” Brown said.

The CSU’s deal with Udacity—which CFA engaged in impact bargaining over before it was announced—is also the first time that professors at a public university have collaborated with a provider of a MOOC to create for-credit courses in which students watch videos, take interactive quizzes and receive support from online mentors.

For the pilot project, however, each course is limited to 100 students—one section of matriculated San Jose State students and a section of non-matriculated students. The courses are run through San Jose’s extension program. The cost of each three-unit course is $150, significantly less than regular San Jose extension fees. A foundation grant is paying the fee for some students.

The San Jose State University Foundation received a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to study the completion rates of the courses they are offering online through SJSU Plus, specifically how different models of interaction and mentoring improve outcomes.

Each of the five faculty members participating in the program will be compensated for both developing and teaching the pilot courses. They also will retain the intellectual- property rights to the course materials.

In the deal between Udacity and SJSU, the university will keep 51 percent of any profit after costs are covered and Udacity will keep 49 percent, Mohammad Qayoumi, San Jose State president, said at the launch. President Qayoumi is pushing aggressively to expand into online education—San Jose is also working on another MOOC pilot with nonprofit provider EdV, which is led by the Massachusetts Institiute of Technology and Harvard University.

In his remarks at the news conference announcing San Jose State Plus, White emphasized that this project is still very much an experiment.

“This is an R&D [research and development] project for us right now to figure out what are the moving parts,” White said. “What is the role of faculty and the human contact? What can be done with technology? How do they interface? Do students learn? Do they advance?”

He continued, “Then the next question is a business question. Can it be scaled up? And how do you scale it up and still maintain the learning environment that the students of today need to be successful?”

“And if we can’t do that last piece, well then, we have to start again,” White concluded.

CFA President Lillian Taiz agreed on the importance of asking questions about student success.

She said in a statement released the day of the program’s launch that “It’s good the CSU is actually testing out these methods and starting on a small scale. We must find out which online tools work well (or not), for what kinds of students, and for what kinds of subject matter. There is a lot to unpack in the pedagogy.”

“You can’t have quality learning conditions for students—online or in a classroom,” she added, “without professional working conditions for the faculty. Our contract is an important piece of making sure we have fairness, equity, and quality in all aspects of CSU teaching.”