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San Jose State MOOC Experiment Suggests MOOC Pushers May Be Selling Snake Oil

by Michael Hiltzik

Let it not be said that San Jose State University hasn’t taught the world a valuable lesson in the promises and pitfalls of the fancy new craze for online university learning.

The Cal State University campus set itself up as a pioneer in the field in January, when it announced plans to enroll up to 300 students in three introductory online courses; the fee would be $150, a deep discount from the usual cost of more than $2,000.

Governor Jerry Brown, who had been pushing the state’s public universities to embrace high-tech teaching modes, was on hand to mark what he called an “exciting moment in the intellectual history of our state and of our university.”

Two weeks ago the results of the experiment came in. More than half the students flunked. San Jose’s work with Udacity, the well-funded Silicon Valley start-up that set up the online program, will be suspended for the fall semester — put on “pause,” as the partners say — so the courses can be retooled.

“We want to reduce the hype and take a scientific look at the results,” San Jose State’s provost, Ellen Junn, told me.

That’s very wise, but the

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