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COPING WITH FAILURE

Online Education Start-Up Gets 'F' From University

Udacity's online courses are being put on hold after more than 50% of students failed their finals at San Jose State University.
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After more than half the students failed their finals, San Jose State University announced on Thursday the suspension of five online classes powered by Udacity. 

The online education start-up, which was co-founded by Stanford professor and Google X founder Sebastian Thrun, had launched its collaboration with San Jose State in January. In its first semester on campus, Udacity offered five entry-level STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) courses at just $150 per class. For all five, the failure rate for the finals ranged from 56 to 76 percent, according to CEO Sebastian Thrum. The students included both traditional collegiates and inner city high school students, many of whom were juggling jobs, and had struggled with college courses previously. 

The problems appear to be specific to Udacity; students taking classes from edX, a nonprofit that offers a hybrid of online and in-class lectures, have been outperforming regular San Jose students. Provost Ellen Junn suggested that the problems may have arisen from the rush to choose and create the Udacity courses. Syllabi were built on the fly, creating a “recipe for insanity,” she told Inside Higher Ed.

It's unclear whether this will be a setback for the growing popularity of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). Universities across the country, including Stanford, Harvard, and Georgetown, had begun to implement online courses in May. However, not all educators have been eager to join the MOOC rush; in April, Amherst faculty voted down a partnership with edX.

San Jose State plans to take a "short breather" for a semester as they regroup, according to Junn. This applies only to the Udacity courses; classes from edX will continue. 

Last updated: Jul 19, 2013




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