Pricing eLearning and the Value of the Online Option

As I was trying to make a dent in the unread count in my Google Reader this weekend, I read a few blog reviews and watched a few highlight videos from the much ballyhooed D10 Conference last month. Of special interest to me was Wall Street Journal’s tech columnist Walt Mossberg’s interview with Stanford President John Hennessy and online learning celebrity Sal Khan.

About 11:30 into the interview (see it below), during a conversation about the skyrocketing cost of education, Khan made a provocative comment about what a particular university he’s familiar with is charging for their online program – roughly the same amount as the school charges for the full brick-and-mortar experience. I tweeted the resulting question:
[blackbirdpie id=”209477365754109952″]

Hamish Macleod, Joint Programme Director of the highly-regarded Masters in eLearning program at the University of Edinburgh responded:
[blackbirdpie id=”209541878830477313″]

Khan’s rhetorical question resonated with me, because the argument often offered for the dramatic increase in tuition in the U.S. is for the on-campus experience: luxury boarding, quality meals, world-class fitness centers, cutting-edge lab facilities, etc. So if you don’t get any of that when you take the online program, why do you pay the same price? Seems like a fair question, right?

Enter the word: value. Depending on how you define it, the value of something can be fairly subjective. A one-of-a-kind vintage Beatles t-shirt from the 1960s might be worth a couple hundred bucks to me, despite its cost of production. So I can see that the value of a Stanford degree earned online, for example, might be worth much more than the cost of production. And here, I’m assuming the cost of production for online learning is much less than the cost of the residential experience. Push back on that if I’m wrong.

To Hamish’s point, eLearning certainly has its own costs. And I’m an eLearning advocate who really values the online option – to be honest, often in my experience the quality of online can surpass the brick-and-mortar. But should I have to pay more for it than the residential experience? Aren’t the residential prices completely bloated and unreasonable?

Am I missing something?

Anytime, Anywhere, Cheap Brand-Name Professional Development

Perhaps it’s Stanford University’s proximity to Silicon Valley that gives it an innovative bent, or maybe the West Coast Ivy is hoping to capitalize on the experience some faculty have had in recent years opening their classes to a broad audience. Or maybe the school is just trying to avoid the tsunami-like impact of digital era disruption better than record and book stores have.

Stanford certificates carry brand-name appeal

Last week, Stanford announced a fully online, low-cost/high-quality Energy Innovation and Emerging Technologies certification. Courses will be taught by the field’s “preeminent researchers”, will be open to nearly anyone, will have no prerequisites, and the program’s 4 courses will cost a total of $780. Courses are offered more or less within the traditional semester format, but it appears one could complete the certificate in just a few months if the courses were taken simultaneously. This is not a completely new format for Stanford, as the university also offers an online certificate in IT Benchmarking, which can be completed in about 6 months, on average, and costs only $500.

So, here are just a few of the questions I’m pondering as I consider Stanford’s program:

1. How much longer before brand-name university programs replace conferences and local grad courses as regular professional development for educators? This summer, it will cost my school and me about $1,500 combined for me to go to ISTE in San Diego. If, for example, the Harvard School of Ed offered a go-at-my-own-pace-anytime-anywhere certificate program of focused professional development in eLearning for say $700, why would I go to a conference? From such a program I would get a verification of mastery from a widely respected institution. Yes, conferences are great for meeting new people, interacting with experts, and hearing new ideas, but modern online courses are probably just as good as conferences for this. And, yes, good online certificates in eLearning already exist, but the program at George Washington U., for example, costs almost $700 per credit hour.

2. Will we see online certifications cannibalize graduate programs? Masters in education programs are typically either expensive, difficult to attend due to scheduling, or both. And, in my experience, it’s sometimes unclear what the practical value of these programs are to the daily practice of teaching. Would it be better for teachers to instead hold certifications in specific areas like “inquiry-based learning” or “differentiated assessment”? It seems to me that a university could leverage economies of scale to offer such programs, taught by recognized experts, to a wide number of teachers for very low costs.

I’m just scratching the surface here. The nearly weekly news that high-quality programs are going online with dramatically lower barriers for participation than traditional education tells us that the tsunami is closer than most think. Kudos to Stanford for keeping their eyes open. It will be interesting to see if they’ve acted quickly enough.

Photo courtesy of Steven Erat, 


Twitter for Education

UPDATE: See also my post “How to Make a Class Backchannel”

I know many teachers and are exploring using Twitter as a learning tool, both for themselves and for their students. Administrators are imagining ways it could be helpful for staff development and for communicating with stake-holders. Here’s a visual to help focus the thinking a bit (click through for larger version):

I ran across this Twitter Matrix about a year ago on Mark Sample’s blog and it really helped me clarify my thinking about how I wanted to use Twitter to enhance student learning. I was clear that I didn’t want to use it just to be using it – if it wasn’t going to lead to greater learning, it was just going to be more noise for students.

I’ve been getting good results using Twitter as a backchannel during class, allowing me to engage with students in new ways. Those that aren’t ready to comment out loud during class will frequently post to the backchannel, allowing me a new way to check for understanding. And because they can post questions there that I see in the last few minutes of class, I can answer them before they leave, meaning no student leaves with misunderstandings that embed in their brain before they return the next day.

If you follow the link to Mark’s blog, you’ll notice he believes Twitter acts as a “snark valve” because tweets are “unfiltered, in effect, the same comment somebody might mutter under his or her breath, uncensored, no-holds-barred opining. Yet the students know classmates are following the course hashtag and at the very least that I am listening (and contributing) as well.  The backchannel assumes a Bakhtinian double-voiced discourse — using sarcasm both to show a kind of too-cool-for-school attitude but also to demonstrate that the student is in fact earnestly engaged with the material.”

How will you use Twitter? I hope the matrix leads to creative ideas. And if they do, kindly tweet me @MikeGwaltney, or leave a more lengthy comment here on my blog.

ITSC ’11 Mid-Day 1

First up for me at ITSC was “Digital Storytelling” with presenters Ginny Hoke and Rhiannon Kerr, two great teachers from Lane County here in Oregon.

Ginny and Rhiannon made clear from the start that digital storytelling is “not about technology, it’s about learning”. Specifically, they have found D.S. is great for building skills in:

  • communication (especially for writing and speaking),
  • vocabulary,
  • problem-solving,
  • teamwork, and

D.S. also helps students understand each other and their mutual struggles with school – its a learning and assessment tool with reflection built in! And yes, it’s also creative and fun.

It’s important to note that there’s much more to digital storytelling than giving kids the cameras and time to shoot and edit video. As with most things, the power is in the process – from brainstorming ideas in small groups, to storyboarding and scripting, to researching and working with sources, students are engaged in a challenging activity with equally rewarding results. After walking us through the steps, Ginny treated us to a sample D.S. project, her class’s “Through Our Eyes” video on Lebanon H.S. Alumni who died in the Vietnam War. Powerful stuff.

Because ITSC is a “hands-on” conference, Ginny and Rhiannon didn’t let us get away without proving we’d learned a thing or two. After introducing us to JayCut, an online (browser-based) video editing tool, they put us in groups and gave us 30 minutes to tell some stories about technology in education. Enjoy these samples, and keep in mind, we only had 30 minutes!

ITSC 2011

The latest Education Technology get-together is the big Instructional Technology Strategies Conference being put on by the Organization for Educational Technology & Curriculum (OETC). This conference in Portland, Oregon, Feb. 20-22 features a “who’s who” of ed tech leaders with keynotes by David Zach and Roger Schank, and workshops being led by Alec Couros, Scott Elias, Lucy Gray, Bud Hunt, Tim Lauer, Dean Shareski, Ira Socol, and Jeff Utecht, to name just several.

I’ll be joining my colleague Peter Pappas (@edteck) in LIVE tweeting and blogging the conference Sunday through Tuesday. Follow me on Twitter (@MikeGwaltney), and bookmark or follow the RSS feed for my blog to catch what I’m sharing.

Peter’s blog is Copy/Paste, where he has already posted some great information for following the conference, including this Wiffitti:

Peter and I will coordinate on the sessions we attend, and you can follow our Tweets and blog posts over the 3 days of the conference.

For a little background on the City of Roses hosting the conference, check out Peter’s great Portland Prezi Preview.

See you in PDX this weekend! Be sure to network with us: (thanks to Sacha Chua for this SlideShare!):

Is this the best High School in America?

It’s not my question, it’s The Daily Riff’s.  And it’s probably not the correct question to ask – there are certainly many different ways of doing school that will work well. So, maybe a better question would be “What makes a great school?”

Let this video about High Tech High in San Diego be the conversation starter. Here’s the opening question: “What is it about High Tech’s approach to education that makes it a great school?”

Changing Education Paradigms

This video from Sir Ken Robinson has been kicking around the web for about three weeks. I’ve shared it on Twitter, and with some colleagues and students on campus in L.A., and just about everyone loves it. Why does this resonate so strongly with teachers, most of whom seem to be invested in the existing system? Perhaps it’s our inherent idealism – the hope that we can create the best possible learning for our students. Let’s hope we can convince administrators and policy-makers that it’s possible.