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San Jose State University Launches Online Course Program

January 18, 2013
San Jose State University President Mo Qayoumi announced the launch of San Jose State Plus in a conference with Gov. Jerry Brown this week. Image courtesy SJSU.

San Jose State University has announced a partnership with an online education startup to offer low-cost online classes for credit. The experimental pilot project marks the first significant foray into online education for the California State University system, and could be the harbinger of a paradigm shift in higher education in California.

"The state's public higher education systems must find a way to help people succeed," said Governor Jerry Brown in a news conference on Tuesday.

The online courses will be offered through Udacity, a startup cofounded by Stanford University professor Sebastian Thrun. Initially, the project - dubbed San Jose State University Plus - will start small, with a total of 300 students taking classes in entry level mathematics, elementary statistics, and college algebra. If the pilot is successful, the for-credit courses could be made available to any high school or community college student in the nation by summer.

The classes were selected because they generally have long waiting lists and high failure rates, serving as obstacles for students seeking degrees. The courses were designed by San Jose State University faculty, working with a technological platform built and supported by Udacity. The courses have been designed to be more interactive than typical free online classes.

There has been considerable interest in digitally enhanced education, including online courses, in California and elsewhere over the past several years. In a March 2012 overview of digital education, CCST noted that there are challenges inherent in adopting technologies with the potential to alter the teaching environment so significantly, and research about the impact of digital education on academic achievement remains relatively sparse. San Jose State University Plus offers a valuable opportunity to examine the potential of online courses at the college level in California.

"We set it up as an experiment of scale," said Thrun. "We don't know if this is a viable path to education." An outside evaluation of the project will be made under a grant from the National Science Foundation.

San Jose State President Mo Qayoumi, a CCST Senior Fellow, has high hopes for the success of the pilot; he was one of the driving forces behind the partnership with Udacity that led to the development of the online courses.

"As the public university that sends 8,000 graduates annually into the Silicon Valley workforce, San Jose State University must and will take a leading role in leveraging technology to transform higher education with the goal of making a college degree affordable and accessible to all," said Qayoumi. "I hope this will be a game-changer."


CCST Spotlight is a weekly newsletter focusing on CCST activities and highlighting innovative science and technology research, applications, and policy issues in California. The Spotlight editor is Danny DeCillis. We welcome information and feedback from our readers about science and technology at work in the private, public, and education sectors. To send us questions or comments, contact us at ccst@ccst.us, or (951) 682-8701.