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The Weekly Blab 4.11

The Weekly Blab

Volume 4, Issue 11—February 2, 2010


Online Marches On

There are a number of interesting things that have popped up lately about online learning.  A report from the Sloan Consortium (as well as a summary), entitled “Learning on Demand—Online Education in the United States, 2009” has as a cover illustration a graph showing that online instruction is growing faster than the H1N1 flu.  Cute as that may be, the main featured statistic is that online instruction grew by 17% in Fall 2008 over the previous fall, with 4.6 million students taking online courses, compared to overall student enrollment which grew by 1.2%.  They further state that more than 25% of college students now take at least one course online.  While the recession has driven up college enrollments across the board, online instruction has increased more than in-class instruction. 


We may be seeing a similar phenomenon here:  eCore enrollments are up 76% at SPSU, compared to a 7% increase in enrollment overall, both numbers as compared to Spring of 2009.  This is preying on my mind because of an email I got from Mark Nunes (Chair of ETCMA), in which he wrote:  “My core classes are off from last spring by about 10% (from 2086 to 1806 duplicated headcount).  My major classes are up from last spring by about 10% (from 314 to 345 duplicated headcount)... Julie [Newell, Chair of SIS] has seen a similar drop in her core class enrollment this semester.”  The actual headcount increase in eCore (again, compared to last spring) is from 156 to 283.  Is there some connection between these numbers?  Maybe.


While correlation doesn’t equal causality, some obvious possible conclusions (which doesn’t mean they’re correct) are:

  • Students are shifting more quickly to online than before.  That’s in line with the national data. 
  • SPSU students are shifting faster than the average.  If that’s true, we’d expect to see our eCore enrollments up more than other eCore schools.  The data shows SPSU is up 55% in eCore registrations from Fall 2009 to Spring 2010, while Valdosta State is only up 7% and West Georgia (who is hosting, so might be expected to see a bigger bump) is up 38% for the same period.  A possible explanation is that being who we are, our students are more at home with technology (read: online instruction) than the average, and are thus “early adopters”.  At this point, we’ve got more students taking eCore than Valdosta, despite the fact that they have an overall enrollment more than twice ours. 
  • This trend is most evident for core courses.  As stated earlier, eCore registrations are up 76%, whereas SPSU online courses (which have a lower fraction of core) are up significantly, but less.  A potential explanation is that students want to “invest” their face-time in major courses more than in core courses.


While it is early in the trend game, departments need to factor these data into their thinking as they plan out their future course mixes and devise growth strategies.





Thus Sprach President Obama

I watched President Obama’s State of the Union Address the other night, and there were a few things in it that touch upon universities.  

  • First, he emphasized his support for community colleges.  A general strategy of encouraging students to go to college is a good thing, but if it leads to a shift to more freshmen and sophomores attending community colleges (they’re cheaper!) rather than 4-year institutions, it’s a questionable strategy.  If the 4-year college population mix shifts toward juniors and seniors, the result will be to drive per capita costs up since upper division courses are more expensive to teach.  We could, in theory, use the community colleges to “weed out” the weaker students, but we’d also get a plethora of transfer issues.  The simple fact is that when students transfer, they usually lose at least some of their credits, often for very good reasons.
  • Second, the president stated that colleges needed to reduce their costs.  This is a common argument, saying that college costs have risen faster than the cost of living (or people’s incomes—take your choice).  Of course, the reality is that last year and this year, we’ve had increased enrollments and less state funding, so costs have been reduced.  If state funding doesn’t ramp up (and it probably won’t anytime soon), the choices will be lowering the quality or raising the tuition.  Guess which way most states are going?  A recent article on MSNBC and another on Fox gives some examples.  Some universities are cutting costs by eliminating low enrollment programs, so this isn’t a good time to be a philosophy or classics professor.
  • Third, he mentioned that we need more graduates with a world-class education in STEM fields (read: get those graduation rates up at SPSU!).  However, the increasing trend toward online education described above won’t help graduation rates, since online courses tend to have lower success rates than live ones, and won’t help costs, since online courses are generally more expensive to teach (same faculty cost, higher equipment cost, additional infrastructure for course design, lower class sizes), at least until you have to put up a new building to accommodate increased demand.   The golden mean would say doing more in hybrid format is part of the answer—there is some impressive data supporting that the success rates are good (see previous Blabs), and the cost is a bit lower and saves on facilities demand

So, there are some challenges in front of us, and this is the playing field we’re on.



Last Week’s Trivia Contest

Last week’s trivia contest was on movies, and the winner (with four correct) was Joel Fowler of the Math Department.

  1. In the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life”, what happens when an angel gets his/her wings?

A bell rings.

  1. In the movie “Harvey”, what is a pooka?

An invisible sprite, in this case, a rabbit.

  1. 3.      In the movie “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, who was the character who could change heads?  Zaphod Beeblebrox.
  2. 4.      In the movie “Back to the Future”, what was the name of the shopping mall before the time travel, and what was it after?  Before, it was the Twin Pine Mall.  After (since when the car went into the past, it crashed into a tree), it was the Lone Pine Mall.
  3. What earlier movie is the movie “Sleepless in Seattle” based on?  An Affair to Remember (my wife’s favorite movie).

This Week’s Trivia Contest

The usual rules apply—most correct snares the swag.  The prize: yet another CD from the vast repository (I’m cataloguing it, and just passed 4,000 CD’s, and I’m not even half done.)  Today’s topic is Africa.

  1. In what country is the movie “Casablanca” set?
  2. What African country was founded by freed slaves from the Unites States?
  3. What country’s ancient name is from the Egyptian word for “gold”?
  4.  What country was formerly known as the Somali Coast and later, the Territory of the Afars and Issas?
  5. What country was formerly a protectorate or mandate of Germany, France, and England?