Larry Press: An Algebra I Story

Written by Larry Press

Who knew 70 percent of incoming UCLA freshmen took online courses on their own? Larry Press comments on a UCLA survey and the future of online courses. — Oscar, my grandson, and his friend decided to tackle an Algebra II course at the Khan Academy over the summer. Not because of an assignment, not out of punishment, just because. Ambitious, I thought — especially since they are going to be 9th graders this Fall.

While they are ahead in their studies, it turns out taking online courses, assigned or unassigned, is not that unusual anymore. UCLA now includes two specific questions in an annual survey for all incoming first-time, full-time college freshman:

  • Have you used an online instructional website (e.g., Khan Academy, Coursera) to learn something on your own?

  • Have you used an online instructional website (e.g., Khan Academy, Coursera) as assigned for a class?

Online Courses on the Rise

The table below details the results (in percents) of students who answered occasionally or frequently:

UCLA Online Courses Question

Image Credit: UCLA

As you can see, more than 40 percent of incoming freshman UCLA polled had been frequently or occasionally assigned an online course in the past year. More shocking (to me, anyway) was that roughly 70 percent had sought out an online course on their own.

Looking more closely at the information, it is clear public school students had slightly more experience with online courses than those enrolling in private colleges. This makes some sense, as public institutions tend to offer more online courses in their own curriculum.

The most fascinating part of this poll for me was that incoming freshman to historically black institutions of learning were much more prone to having engaged with online courses than any other freshman group, whether it was assigned or not. I could try to analyze this difference, but it would require more research on my part.

These college expectations correlate with high school experience — students who are going to historically black and, to a lesser extent, public schools are more likely to expect to take online classes in college:

UCLA Student Expectation Survey Online Courses

Image Credit: UCLA

The survey also yields some insight into the importance of having used online classes. They correlate online participation with a multi-dimensional positive habits of mind index and conclude that:

Students who chose to independently use online instructional websites are also more likely to exhibit behaviors and traits associated with academic success and lifelong learning.”

My grandson Oscar and his friend may be ahead of the curve, having been assigned Khan Academy lessons while in junior high, and then taking it upon themselves to continue their education out of school, but it looks like today’s kids know the Web is good for school work as well as playing games, posting selfies and building Minecraft worlds.

I’d like to note that I’ve focused on the online instruction portion of the survey, but it covers many other characteristics of incoming freshmen. Also, for reference, I’ve included the components of the habits of mind index below.

UCLA Habits of Mind Index Online Courses

Image Credit: UCLA

Have you taken online courses? Have your kids?

For, I’m Larry Press.

Based in Los Angeles, Larry Press is a founding senior editor covering tech here He’s also a professor of information systems at California State University at Dominguez Hills. Check his Google+ profile — he’s +Larry Press — or email him at

Featured Image Art: Dreamliner 2012. (Own work.) Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.