distance learning education
Shared by: lestercaldwell
How can you tell what the students are learning when they are not here? Three recently published documents are likely to have a major impact on how CUA and other universities are permitted to develop and offer distance education courses. As colleges move to create online courses, the agencies that accredit educational institutions are signaling on how this new technology will change the practices of accrediting those institutions. Some pundits have hailed distance education as an inspired way to make education accessible to all, while others see it as creating a two-tiered system of education, with secluded campuses for the haves, and a computer education for the have nots. Whatever your view of distance education, it has arrived. A recent study by Dunn & Bradstreet's Market Data Retrieval found 70% of accredited two- and four-year schools now offer some form of distance learning. Distance Learning: Academic and Political Challenges for Higher Education Accreditation (online at http://www.chea.org/Commentary/index.html ) is a monograph by Judith Eaton, the President of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Ms. Eaton highlights three issues that must be addressed in the new environment where a physical site may not be part of the educational equation. Can federal funds be accountably delivered in a distance learning environment? Can accreditation continue to be relied upon to assure quality in a distance learning environment or will alternative forms of quality review be needed? Can the federal government remain comfortable with the principle of self-regulation in higher education as distance learning expands, or are more government controls needed? The author posits that without physical plants to inspect, and full-time faculty credentials to review, that accreditors will turn more toward student achievement to judge institutional performance. The Statement of Commitment by the Regional Accrediting Commissions for the Evaluation of Electronically Offered Degree and Certificate Programs (http://www.wiche.edu/telecom/Article1.htm) is a general discussion on how the regional commissions are dealing with the emergence of distance education. The regional commissions only accredit degree granting institutions of higher learning, and do not accrediting distance education programs that do not lead to a degree. However, if degree granting colleges and universities offer distance education training, such activities will be subject to evaluation by the accreditors. The Statement raises, but does not answer, the obvious question of how an accreditation system set up by geographical regions will evaluate and accredit a virtual institution. The Statement also notes that the first time development of distance education programming leading to a degree for off campus students will be subject to careful prior review. Best Practices for Electronically Offered Degree and Certificate Programs, billed as a work in progress, is perhaps the most practically- oriented of the three documents dealing with distance education and accreditation. Best Practices is intended for use by the regional accrediting commissions in conjunction with their own policies and procedures. College administrators can use the document as a checklist as they consider offering distance education courses. For example, does the university have a policy dealing with ownership of intellectual property? If the university will be offering distance education courses, Best Practices indicates adoption of such a policy is a must. Other questions raised in Best Practices are the following: What support services are available to those responsible for preparing courses or programs to be offered electronically? Does the staff include qualified instructional designers? What orientation and training programs are available to those responsible for program development? What is the history of student retention in this program? What evidence is there that the program is consistent with the role and mission of the institution including its goals with regard to student access? Does institutional documentation indicate an awareness of legal and regulatory requirements of the jurisdictions in which it operates, e.g. requirements for service to those with disabilities, copyright law, state and national requirements for institutions offering educational programs, and international restrictions such as export of sensitive information or technologies? Implicit in all of the questions raised is the larger question of whether the rush to offer distance education courses is in keeping with “seeking truth and serving students”1 or whether distance education will simply end up as modern day correspondence courses. Related material: See the interview with Michael Haney, a program officer with National Science Foundation, for a look at how the NSF views distance education proposals. Note: Links to the eight regional accrediting commissions are available at http://www.chea.org/Directories/regional.htm 1 Words of Derek Bok, former President of Harvard, in a statement on academic institutions and commercial activities.