David Clinefelter, Chief
Academic Officer, Learning House
An Interview with
The Civic Caucus
2104 Girard Avenue South,
Notes of the
Dave Broden, Janis Clay (phone), David Clinefelter, Pat Davies, Paul Gilje
(coordinator), Randy Johnson,
(vice chair), Dana Schroeder
Summary of Discussion: Online
courses, whether Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) or classes at
colleges and universities taught at least partly online, are poised to
change the face of higher education, according to David Clinefelter. A
number of colleges are offering free, non-credit online courses to anyone
around the world (MOOCs), expanding the scope of learning offered by some
of their best professors. It's a growing trend, even though it's not
always clear how the colleges are benefitting by offering the MOOCs. Some
colleges partner with private nonprofit and for-profit companies to offer
the courses. In addition, Clinefelter believes colleges and large
university systems could improve the content and quality of certain
standard courses and get more productivity from faculty by offering those
courses at least partly online. Faculty pay could be differentiated
between those who design courses and materials and offer online lectures
and those who supplement the online material by working directly with
joined Learning House in October 2011 as chief academic officer. His
responsibilities involve improving the processes and services of the
Learning House curriculum and professional development departments. The
Learning House, Inc., is an online educational services provider that
helps colleges and universities develop and grow high-quality online
degree programs and courses. Colleges and universities can contract with
Learning House for a range of services: from IT staff who host the
Learning Management System to curriculum designers, who work with faculty
to convert a course for online delivery, to faculty training people to
marketing experts and enrollment management specialists. The company
partners with over 100 colleges and universities, including Hamline
University and Concordia University, both in St. Paul.
Clinefelter's career spans
all levels of education, from K-12 to higher education. He was
superintendent for Lamoni Community School in Iowa and principal of
Jonathan Alder Local Schools in
Ohio. At the
postsecondary level, he began as professor at the
and lecturer at Ohio State University.. While serving as the vice
president for academic affairs at
in Iowa, He was an ACE Fellow for one year, hosted at
University. He then became President of Graceland for six years.
He became provost at Kaplan
University in 2002. During his eight years there, the university grew from
1,500 students to more than 68,000, with 4,000 faculty members. He became
chief academic officer at Walden University in 2010. He holds a Ph.D. in
curriculum and teacher education and an M.A. in curriculum and
instruction, both from Ohio State University.
Massive Open Online
Courses (MOOCs) are a growing trend in education.
A new trend in postsecondary
education, according to David Clinefelter, is the growing number of
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) offered today by colleges and
universities and private companies. MOOCs are "massive" (they have large
enrollments), "open" (they are free to anyone); "online" (they are 100
percent internet-based) courses. Currently, students don't pay tuition for
the courses, nor do they get credit for taking them.
The first MOOC was created
by Stanford Professor Sebastian Thrun and his teaching partner in 2011.
He and his partner were teaching a course on artificial intelligence as a
regular Stanford course with students in class on campus. Thrun had the
idea to open up the course for people who might want to sit in and take it
online for free. He thought he would get several hundred people from
around the country. Instead, 160,000 people from 190 countries signed up
for the course. Stanford decided the online, non-tuition-paying students
could not receive credit.
Thrun had a couple of months
to prepare the course. He and his partner designed the course and prepared
video lectures or PowerPoint presentations with a voiceover. At the
appropriate time in the course, the students could watch those online and
do readings. Students could submit questions to a message board, and Thrun
and his teaching partner would try to answer questions that were
Class size in MOOCs doesn't
affect professors' workload.
The professors could offer
an exam or quiz on a digital learning management system (LMS).
The students could take the exam and the
LMS would grade them and
give the students the results. "So grading the exam didn't take any work
on the part of the faculty member," Clinefelter said. "It didn't matter to
them if there were 2,000 or 100,000 people in the course. The same work
load was there for them, basically."
There was no advertising for
the course. Thrun just put a notice on the Web and people found it. "It
went viral," Clinefelter said. "People in the computer science industry
started sharing this with their friends and colleagues."
Thrun was teaching his
regular on-campus class, in addition to the online students. Partway
through the course, he told those students they could finish the class
online. Most did and stopped coming to class. Many of the 160,000 people
who originally signed up for the course did a few lessons online and then
dropped out. However, about 10,000 people finished the course and did all
the required work. "That's a massive amount of people," Clinefelter
Many non-Stanford, online
students did better than the top Stanford students.
At the end, Thrun graded
everybody and ranked the scores. The top Stanford student was about 411th.
In 2011, an inspired Thrun
started Udacity, a private educational organization.
"Thrun quit his day job and
raised about $20 million of venture capital startup funding," Clinefelter
said. "He wants to do something good for the world." Udacity offers 14
MOOCs currently, with 20,000 to 30,000 students in each of them. Thrun is
recruiting faculty from around the country to offer MOOCs through the
Professors can experiment
with different teaching techniques and different materials in the online
classes to see what's most helpful to students. Students grade their peers
on homework projects or papers, using a rubric. He said research shows
peer grading is very close to what the professor would do.
Thrun's faculty partner at
Stanford started his own for-profit company, called Coursera.
He also got some startup funding. Coursera has gone to various
universities and asked if they'd like to offer some of their courses as
MOOCs. Today they have about 30 top-tier universities around the country
as part of their network.
Each school in the Coursera
network has at least three courses they're offering as MOOCs. The
professors volunteer their time and record video lectures of their
classes. They build quizzes and tests around the course and they teach it.
It's not a lot of work for the professors. Most of the quizzes and tests
are objective and self-scoring. The professors do spend time on the
discussion forum, or the message board, where they'll respond to some
student questions and comments. They don't respond to every question and
encourage students to respond to each other. "It's all no cost, no
credit," Clinefelter said.
Harvard and MIT have formed
edX, another MOOC organization.
About the same time, Harvard
and MIT partnered and created their own MOOC organization called edX.
Harvard and MIT each contributed $30 million to the venture, which is a
nonprofit. Now the
University of Texas system and the University of California-Berkley have
joined them. "They're serious about it," Clinefelter said. "Nobody knows
what they get out of it."
People are learning a lot in
the MOOCs, he said. "Harvard and MIT and the other schools are really
wanting to do something good for the world. Part of their mission is to
educate people. It's not necessarily about money. They see this as an
opportunity to do something profoundly significant to help educate people
across the world. Their mission is not profit."
MOOC courses attract mostly
adults. But in
one computer programming class, he said, a nine year-old girl in India
ranked first in the class. "It's skewed to the adult learners. Most of
these students are outside the U.S. It's people who really want to learn
and don't have access. A place like MIT is very attractive to them. They
want to see if they can do an MIT class." MIT will give a certificate of
completion, but not credit, for people completing their MOOCs.
Offering MOOCs has caused
controversy among faculty members.
Clinefelter said for the
professors doing the online courses, "it's a big ego boost." Other
professors are feeling very threatened. Some schools think it's a good
idea to offer the courses, but some faculty react with skepticism to the
idea. There's a debate as to whether the online courses are real and good
education and whether the school can make money from them. He said,
though, that the MOOCs have changed the discussion from, "Should we do
this?" to "Are we going to get left behind?"
Some colleges want to give
credit for online courses and then charge lower tuition for online
Clinefelter noted that the
system has joined edX and has a goal of offering a $10,000 bachelor's
degree. "They want to figure out a way to give credit for these courses,
but to make it cheap," he said.
He reported that Antioch
University, with campuses in Ohio and Los Angeles, just signed a deal with
Coursera, under which Antioch will offer credit for selected Coursera
courses. The students can enroll in Antioch, take the Coursera course and
get Antioch credit, with an Antioch professor guiding and grading them.
The students pay tuition to
and a portion goes back to Coursera. The school can charge a lower tuition
rate, because a professor working with the students doesn't need to be
paid the full rate for the course, since it's largely being taught by a
well-known professor from another university, who also develops the course
Similarly, Learning House is
planning to approach Coursera about what it would charge to access courses
for a group of 10 to 15 traditional colleges or universities that would
like to give credit for Coursera courses. Clinefelter said the Learning
House would be the middleman linking Coursera and the schools. He thinks
many students would want credit for the online courses and want to earn a
degree from a college like Hamline.
It's unclear what benefits
universities that offer MOOCs are gaining.
"That's the question everybody's asking," Clinefelter responded to a
questioner. "Universities are saying, 'We've got to be part of the club.
We can't let them get ahead of us.' They don't know why they're doing it.
It's getting a lot of attention. They're all jumping on the bandwagon,
because they don't want to be left behind. They don't really know."
"This is kind of like a
solution looking for a problem," he continued. "The problem is that people
want access to a quality education and it's hard to get that. They've
found a way for people to get access to some of the best professors in the
world for free."
MOOCs are not without
Clinefelter asked, "Can these people make money? Can students actually
turn this into a degree and get credit for it? What's the benefit to the
"I think these folks might
be producing some really good courses and some really good learning
materials," he said. "What's missing from the MOOCs is the personal
relationship and Q and A with the professor." Some students don't need or
want the professor; they'd prefer to study on their own. For students who
need more help and more feedback, there is a role for a personal
relationship with the professor, where he or she could ask the right
question or push a student who needs it.
In Thrun's artificial
intelligence course, students formed study groups around the world. "There
was a lot of interaction among students, but not as much with the faculty
member, which is one of my concerns about these things," he noted.
Thrun said in a recent
presentation that MOOCs could be used as a job placement service. He sent
resumes of the best students in his online artificial intelligence course
to Google, who hired them.
Universities and colleges
offer MOOCs in a variety of areas.
An interviewer asked what
types of classes are offered as MOOCs. Clinefelter responded that Udacity
offers mostly computer science courses, while Coursera has a wider course
selection, with about 30 categories of courses, some of them general
"It seems like every
university in Coursera is offering its own specialties," he said. For
specializes in public health. "The schools are cherry-picking some of
their best professors who are well known and have written books." He said
the universities are looking for a way to make money from offering the
For-profit colleges and
universities are having serious financial problems.
Responding to a question,
Clinefelter said the for-profit colleges and universities are "in
difficult times. They're struggling and, in most cases, declining. The
for-profits are all having serious financial problems." Walden University
is doing better, he said, because it offers a number of graduate degrees.
"The nonprofit sector, such as Hamline and Concordia, were slow to move
into online education. But now they've seen that it does work and it does
make sense. They're moving into this space."
The potential online
students are typically adult learners who are working and want to advance
professionally. "They would usually prefer a Hamline degree to a
University of Phoenix degree," he said. Learning House recently surveyed
1,500 online college students and found that the first thing they are
looking for in a school is reputation, or the brand. The second thing they
look for is price. The nonprofits can charge less than the for-profits.
Learning Management Systems
help track whether students are doing the work.
An interviewer asked how the
schools offering online courses track that students are actually doing the
work. Clinefelter answered that students must take tests and submit
assignments to the Learning Management System. The student may also be
required to participate in a discussion forum each week. The professor can
track whether the students were there and whether they made good
contributions to the discussion.
The question always comes up
about how the school knows if it's the actual student submitting the work.
The student must have a unique password and log in and perhaps answer a
question about the account owner's past to access the account.
Course design and course
delivery are separate functions and can be divided.
Clinefelter said some
professors are good at designing the online courses and materials with a
team and some professors are good at teaching them. If the schools can
separate these functions, they wouldn't have to pay the teaching professor
to design the course.
Across the Minnesota State
Colleges and University (MnSCU) system, for example, all the schools teach
introductory courses on economics or American literature. "Why do we pay
faculty members on each campus to design and teach the same course?" he
asked. "Not only do we pay faculty members on each campus to teach these
courses, we pay them every semester."
An interviewer countered
that MnSCU "is not paying top dollar to faculty members to begin with.
It's wonderful to imagine that kind of cost reduction. In practice you're
going to end up with poorly skilled employees willing to take
lower-salaried jobs or you're going to end up without faculty at all."
"I'm not saying we would pay
faculty less," Clinefelter responded. "I think you can get more
productivity out of faculty and get more bang for the buck. Why not pick
the best course and let everybody teach that same course. You could hire a
great lecturer and video that lecturer and design really good courses. You
may have to pay 10 times what you pay now for any one of those courses,
but that course could be used across the system. Or in the case of MOOCs,
you could use it across the world."
Colleges could differentiate
the pay for professors who create and design courses from that of
professors teaching those courses.
Clinefelter said some
professors might make a lot more money if they're really good at course
design and course creation. The schools could differentiate the pay for
them and for faculty members who might be great at working with students.
Also, MnSCU could expect
faculty members to teach more classes when they're offered online, such as
eight classes instead of four. Those professors don't have to do any
textbook selection, write any exams or give any lectures. "You can
experiment with the workload and what you're getting for your dollars.
We're paying for a lot of repetition."
"If you standardize your
courses, you can agree on clear outcomes," Clinefelter said. After using
good assessments to measure outcomes, the professors can get a good sense
of student achievement and then ask if the course is working. If students
are not showing the right outcomes, then faculty members can revise the
course to aim for improved student achievement. "Standardization of the
curriculum really gives you the opportunity to assess performance and to
use that performance to drive change," he said.
In response to a concern
about whether the standardized online courses would lead to cookie-cutter
education, Clinefelter said the faculty would compete to see who could
achieve the best outcomes. "Different faculty members are going to be more
effective with different students and bring their own style to the class,"
The K-12 education system
seems to be ahead of higher education in the use of online learning.
that some K-12 schools are requiring students to watch the teacher's
lecture before they come to class, which is called "flipping" the
classroom. Some schools and states require students to take online classes
in order to graduate. Also, high school students can take MOOC classes. He
tells colleges they must get ready for students who've already had these
Many colleges are now giving
credit for standard courses offered by a company called Straighter Line.
started by Burck Smith, provides 40 general education courses. They're
standard courses and anybody can take them. Many colleges will now give
credit for them.
Smith currently charges $49
to sign up for a course and $99 a month for as many courses as a student
wishes to take. "He's really trying to change the cost model," Clinefelter
said. In the future, Smith is going to let professors who want to teach a
course charge whatever they'd like. There will be public ratings and
statistics on how many students passed the courses. He's going to let
faculty members compete.
Some teachers offering
courses through a company called Udemy are now millionaires.
Udemy offers online
education on all kinds of topics, from yoga to business strategies. The
teachers of the courses set their own price. He said a half-dozen really
popular faculty members have earned more than $1 million from their Udemy
MOOCs may push higher
education more toward competency-based learning.
An interviewer asked how the online courses relate to a recent Center for
Policy Studies report that recommended basing higher education credits on
developing competencies, rather than on time in class. Clinefelter
responded that in a MOOC, students must prove competency in order to pass
the course. There's a new concept called "badging," in place of a diploma.
A badge, which is neither a degree nor a credit, could be a letter or
certificate stating that a student completed a course. The question is
whether badges will be valuable in the marketplace.
"MOOCs are one
way to educate lots of people in a hurry," Clinefelter concluded. "They're
for a certain kind of learner, and they're an interesting experiment.
MOOCs have validated online learning. It's a good thing for the world. Who
knows who might discover a cure for cancer or the next supercomputer as a
result? Every month there's a new development in this field."