California State U. System Will Expand MOOC Experiment

San Jose State University plans to widen its relationship with edX, the nonprofit provider of massive open online courses, and the California State University system is encouraging similar experiments on 11 other campuses.

The moves were announced on Wednesday, just two semesters after San Jose State began a pilot project with edX to improve teaching and learning in its own classrooms. The university will incorporate three to five new edX courses into its local curriculum next fall, including courses in the humanities and social sciences.

San Jose State last fall used material from an edX course, “Circuits & Electronics,” as part of a “flipped classroom” experiment in its own introductory course in electrical engineering. The university offered three versions of the course: two conventional face-to-face sections and one “blended” section, in which students watched edX videos on their own and then participated in group activities, sans lecturing, during class time.

The pass rates in the two conventional sections were 55 percent and 59 percent. In the “flipped” section with the edX videos, 91 percent of students passed.

The second semester of trials, currently under way, has also produced encouraging results, said Mohammad H. Qayoumi, president of San Jose State, in an interview. But data from those trials are not yet available because the courses are still in session.

The findings are preliminary, Mr. Qayoumi acknowledged. But the president, who has never been reluctant to criticize an implicit bias toward traditional classroom teaching, said he was not worried about jumping the gun. “It could not be worse than what we do face to face,” he said.

San Jose State will house a new Center for Excellence in Adaptive and Blended Learning, where faculty members from around the Cal State system will attend workshops this summer in order to learn how to incorporate edX resources into their own courses this fall.

Facing precipitous budget cuts and unmanageable demand for many courses, California’s public universities are eager to find ways to get more students through the curriculum in less time—a strategy that would enable them to increase tuition revenue despite a lack of state funds.

They are hoping MOOCs can help. State Sen. Darrell Steinberg, the president pro tempore of the California Senate, has proposed a bill that would push California’s public institutions to use MOOCs as a supplement to serve students who are being shut out of overcrowded existing courses.

In the meantime, San Jose State, which is located in Silicon Valley, is not limiting its experimentation to the Massachusetts-based edX. The university in January announced a pilot program with Udacity, a for-profit MOOC provider based in nearby Palo Alto, Calif.

Mr. Qayoumi said it was not yet clear how much the success in the initial “Circuits & Electronics” trial owed to the specific content from edX, and how much to redesigning the classroom around small-group work.

“I think it’s the whole design and the approach,” he told The Chronicle.

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