Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
The posting below looks at the possible role for MOOCs in courses for non-traditional higher education adults. It is by Walter Buchanan who is president of the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) and is from Prism, Summer 2013, Vol. 22, No. 9. © Copyright 2013. American Society for Engineering Education. 1818 N Street, N.W., Suite 600, Washington, DC 20036-2479.
(www.asee.org). Reprinted with permission.
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Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
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To MOOC or Not? - Online Courses Fit Well with Competency-Based Education
The Bard of Avon knew the power of the written and spoken word, but it's safe to say he could not have imagined how it would be spread by the Internet. In higher education these days the next big thing appears to be MOOCs, Massive Open Online Courses. A MOOC can be delivered by one instructor to thousands of students all over the world, for free. Even Shakespeare would be impressed by that.
In this era of rising student debt, my focus as ASEE president is to determine how ASEE can help students see the value of engineering and engineering technology education - and get it in a cost-effective manner. My initial Prism article stressed encouraging and exciting young students about mathematics and science, to ready them for technically rigorous engineering courses in college. But once at university, students should be able to afford their education and not graduate with massive debt. In my last article, I discussed how students can achieve this through enrollment at a lower-cost two-year school before transferring to a four-year institution. Good advising, the ability to transfer credits, and courses that prepare students for the four-year school are all key to this pathway.
Distance education can also play a part in saving money, but the real question for MOOCs is whether they can also deliver effective education. MOOCs fit well with competency-based education, which makes no distinction between knowledge obtained from an online course or through prior learning. A pioneer of this concept is Excelsior College. Begun in 1971 as Regents College, part of the State University of New York, it was the first U.S. college to award degrees based on proof of prior learning. The school became an independent nonprofit in 2001 and gained its current name.
At the center of the Excelsior mission is the idea that what you know is more important than where or how you learned it. Excelsior has designed a student-centered model that is highly responsive to the needs of career-oriented adult learners. It integrates transfer credits from approved sources, courses from Excelsior and other institutions, and credits earned through assessment exams and evaluation of prior learning.
Excelsior College President John Ebersole is passionate about providing open educational resources to help adult learners overcome barriers. Nonetheless, he remains cautious about MOOCs. After the American Council on Education (ACE) recommended in February that institutions grant credit for five Coursera online courses, Ebersole told the Chronicle of Higher Education that given Coursera's current assessment methods, his school would decline to do so. \"We would hope that the ACE would support a rigorous process, as is the case with many other forms of non-collegiate instruction, whereby those seeking credit would complete a psychometrically valid assessment in a secure testing facility.\"
At Excelsior, the School of Business and Technology is developing a MOOC that meets Ebersole's more rigorous standards. Through the foundational course Introduction to Cybersecurity, students from around the world will be able to increase their awareness of data breaches, identity theft, and other cybercrimes and develop fundamental skills to address these issues. In trying out Excelsior's cybercurriculum, students can also evaluate their interest in cybersecurity programs. But those who hope to complete the course as part of Excelsior's nuclear engineering technology degree - the only ABET-accredited online course in this field - will face more rigorous, though flexible, evaluation and testing.
The competency-based model has expanded to other public colleges nationwide, including New Jersey's Thomas Edison State College, founded in 1972, and more recently and well known, the Western Governors University. In just a few years Western Governors has burgeoned to over 25,000 students. Another recent player is the Colorado State University-Global Campus, the first and only 100 percent online, fully accredited public university in the United States. Many other schools are starting to offer online courses and credit prior learning. Southern New Hampshire University may soon become the first college to award federal student aid based not on credit hours but on a series of measured competencies. And many other universities are moving toward credit for MOOCs - California State University, Arizona State, the University of Cincinnati, the University of Arkansas system, and Georgia State University, to name a few.
The real question in all of this is whether online learning is as good as that gained from traditional instruction. Most of us may feel that, if the finances allow it, attending a residential four-year school is preferable, as students benefit from the social atmosphere and face-to-face instruction. Yet nontraditional adults returning to college now outnumber traditional students. These adult learners, who often cannot leave work to attend college during the day, have up until now been limited to evening courses. Numerous students, traditional or nontraditional, are also constrained by the soaring costs of college. MOOCs offer assistance in both cases; but whether they are the best answer is yet to be determined. Whatever path we follow, educators need to ensure that the education that is received is not watered down to fit the circumstances. That would be a great disservice not only to the individual but also to society in general.
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