In a recent Los Angeles Times article on a MOOC experience at San Jose State University, the author of the article, Michael Hiltzik, writes, "The school explains the courses' high failure rate by saying the students were "an atypical sample" — half were San Jose State students who had already failed the courses once. The other half were students from an underprivileged Oakland high school. Many of the latter had no computer access, a fact the school only discovered three weeks into the online term."
The question is, did the school need Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval to to subject students "from an underprivileged Oakland high school" to this assessment? How do we ethically obtain useful data on the effectiveness of MOOCs? What do we need to know about subjects (students) up front for the data to be objectively considered? Is it possible with disparate and (usually) self-selecting populations to even get at the issues that concern educators about this online learning format?