California: Online courses boost exam pass rates

By April 24, 2013

‘Blended learning’, a hybrid online/in-classroom approach to education which has been developed at the San José State University in California, has enabled students to achieve higher grades. This study approach is now about to become more widespread in California.


Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have been much talked about for some time now, not only as regards their success, but also their potential to expand and link up with education provision beyond the online platform. California is now on the way to authorizing state colleges to award academic credits to students who follow online courses, in the same way as they do for in-classroom courses, as part of their programs. Although MOOCs seem to be an excellent solution both to the financial problems facing state establishments and the problem of overcrowded classes, concerns still persist over how effective they really are. Several institutes of learning have already launched pilot programs to test the effectiveness of online courses, including San José State University (SJSU). SJSU has gone into partnership with edX, a not-for-profit firm founded by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that provides learning materials designed specifically for interactive study via the web, offering students the chance to follow classes from whatever location they wish via the edX platform. The hybrid online/classroom approach is often referred to as ‘blended learning’. SJSU has just announced the first results of its trial, which have proved extremely positive, with the pass rate for a number of exams rising substantially.

Conclusive pass-rate improvements

The online class which was given at SJSU in the autumn of 2012 was an engineering course in circuits and electronics, specially created by MIT for the edX platform. The course was developed with a specifically ‘blended learning’ approach, whereby students have access to the required course materials in the form of video, reading and interactive exercises, which are available to them anytime, anywhere outside the classroom, on their mobile devices. Time spent in class is then devoted to in-depth discussion and group work facilitated by local professors.During the course offered by SJSU in autumn 2012, the class of 87 students watched video and did exercises outside the classroom, leaving more time for discussions and group instruction during the face-to-face sessions. The results of the course speak for themselves. While the exam pass rate for those who followed conventional courses was 55%, the pass rate in the ‘blended’ class was 91%.

Universities won over by blended learning

Many Californian universities have now been won over by the blended learning concept. Harvard and MIT, the founders of the edX platform, offer these courses, which are called HarvardX and MITx. And the online courses have now been extended to other universities. The engineering course will henceforth be available at 11 of the 23 other campuses of the California State Universities (CSU), with over a thousand students participating. Moreover, San Jose State has decided to set up a ‘Center for Excellence in Adaptive and Blended Learning’, in order to help university faculty from other campuses who are interested in teaching this course or other blended online courses. This agreement also “sets the stage for SJSU-edX collaboration toexpand well beyond engineering to the sciences, humanities, business and social sciences,” points out the SJSU blog, with scope to offer courses from several edX-partnering universities, including Harvard, MIT and the University of California, Berkeley.





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