College online Learning

WideModern_onlineclassroom_091713.jpgAnyone headed to campus these days should get set for "a blended experience, " says David Leebron, president of Rice University and an advocate of online learning. While some college students will probably still have an entirely brick-and-mortar experience, Leebron says, other folks "may get their education entirely online." Most will find themselves mixing traditional and virtual learning.

Much of this terrain is still uncharted, and some online models have been more successful than others as colleges and universities learn how to integrate technology into their curriculums effectively. But it's inevitable that online learning will shape undergraduate education going forward, experts say.

A range of approaches, beyond MOOCs, are well underway.

1. Flipped classrooms: One of the most popular models being used by instructors enables lectures to be heard at home and "homework" to be done in class.

At Bentley University, for example, students in these "flipped classrooms" use computers or mobile devices outside class to watch videos describing how to build spreadsheets and Web pages as part of senior lecturer Mark Frydenberg's Introduction to Information Technology course. They then come to class to apply that knowledge, doing actual building and having the opportunity to get their questions answered.

Sophomore Maria Clarice Chua says that previewing material before class helps students to understand how to use various digital formats when they meet. Class time allows for "more of a hands-on approach, " she notes. "It's much more rewarding."

Some schools are adding another dimension, designing their classes around course materials made freely available by other universities. San Jose State University lecturer Khosrow Ghadiri combines elements from Circuits and Electronics, a massive open online course from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as part of his own Introduction to Circuits Analysis.

His 87 students watch the lectures and finish the readings before class, where Ghadiri then clarifies points and reinforces concepts as needed. Students are quizzed on the videos.

The approach seems to be paying off: The pass rate in the conventional classes has been as low as 59 percent, while in classes embracing this blended approach, it has climbed to 91 percent.

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