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Florida bill calls for MOOC accreditation, FIU weighs options

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Florida law is now requiring universities to accredit massively open online courses, which are currently free and not for credit.

Their purpose, according to the University, is to provide an “open learning experience” along with what FIU Online Dean Joyce Elam calls “a taste of some of the leading academic programs at FIU.”

The University is now weighing options on how to make for-credit MOOCs.

“If FIU doesn’t come up with a process to award course credit for learning done through MOOCs or in other ways, someone else will come up with it, and we’ll just be told to implement it,”  said Laurie Shrage, a professor of philosophy who proposed a method for MOOCs accreditation to the Faculty Senate.

Florida law wants to stimulate the state’s K-12 and higher education system’s interest in MOOCs.

Because of this development, the Faculty Senate has been discussing methods to create an effective method of ensuring that students who take MOOCs earn credit.

The Senate tabled a proposal presented by Dr. Shrage for revisions. The revised proposal will be discussed in the body’s April 9th meeting.

Shrage said the motion was meant to “get the ball rolling” on what the university should do.

“We’re trying to develop a prototype,” she said in an interview with Student Media.

When explaining some of the reasoning behind the Florida law, she mentioned the climbing cost of higher education and how MOOCs often incur an additional cost to the university, with almost no cost to the student.

One of the ideas being floated around is testing students for their knowledge so that MOOCs can function as a CLEP-type program.

“The trick of this is the following: If you’re not getting credit for seat time and the whole set of ways we do it in class, such as exercises, papers, tests and activities, instead of assessments and experiences, we’re going to have to reduce our learning goals to what people call a set of competencies,” Shrage said.

She later clarified that the competency, or acquisition of skills and knowledge of particular content areas, can be demonstrated through testing.

But Shrage believes there are some complications with implementing this idea.

As a professor in the realm of the humanities, she said that “there isn’t a lot of agreement about what areas of content should be covered and how we would define the skills that students would have to have to demonstrate the mastery of a course’s learning objectives.”

“It’s also hard to test for general skills that we might all agree to, such as critical thinking,” Shrage said. “So, designing tests that allow students to earn college credit for a course will mean that we need to make similar courses across institutions more uniform.”

A one-size-fits-all approach to MOOC accreditation would also have implications for the state university system, according to Shrage.

“If one campus has an online psychology degree, does another university in the same state system have to have an online psychology degree?”

Shrage also mentioned concerns about the quality of online courses.

Tom Auxter, the president of United Faculty of Florida, warned the Inside Higher Ed of a “cheap and dirty” online education.

“Online education can be done well or poorly, like anything else,” Shrage said. “ Like Auxter, I worry that educators will not be given the resources to produce high quality online courses, where students are able to interact with subject experts and their peers, and where students get a reasonable amount of individual attention.”

While these and other concerns exist, Shrage is of the conviction that a solution to the problem must be presented.

“Regardless of whether or not we agree with the current state mandate, we need to be aware what future mandates are likely to look like and what kinds of discussion are going on the state level,” Shrage said. “I’m not against the idea that we should find a way to award students college credit for what they’ve learned outside the traditional classroom.”

Other universities in the United States have made an effort to introduce MOOC accreditation.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that Colorado State University-Global Campus was the first in the nation. The University of Maryland University College is also implementing an accreditation program, and is planning on using these for research efforts, according to MSN News.

Shrage recommended that Student Media reach out to Kathleen Wilson, chair of the committee in charge of drafting a proposal. When contacted, Wilson mentioned that a finalized bill would be presented to the Faculty Senate on April 9.

“It’s good that we’re thinking about this now,” Shrage said.

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