By Robert Daugherty
President, Chancellor University
Earlier this week, the faculty at Duke University voted down a proposal to join a group of elite colleges to offer for-credit online courses. This vote provides a glimpse into the challenges faced in online education and the evolving role of for-profit organizations.
The group of colleges that Duke had considered joining, under the name of SemesterOnline, was being organized by a commercial online education services provider, 2U. Each school was to supply at least one course and have 2U help develop and deliver the courses. The schools would then provide credit to their own students for all of the offered courses. Duke faculty said no.
So what were the reasons the Duke faculty voted it down? And more importantly, what does it mean for the future of online education?
The reasons cited by the Duke faculty for rejecting the proposal included: (a) not a good idea to give “Duke credit” to a presumed inferior, non-Duke course; (b) why should Duke provide instruction to non-Duke students?; and (c) having non-Duke students in the classroom would create an “inferior classroom environment.”
Aside from Duke’s high opinion of its own faculty, students and curriculum, what does this all mean?
It reveals a number things. First is the persistent reluctance by mainstream academia to embrace online education. A German language professor at Duke who voted down the plan expressed high skepticism about the role of online education. He seems, however, to have missed the many advances in adaptive learning technologies in language instruction that are delivered online. Rosetta Stone, for example, has transformed language instruction, while entrenched faculty at traditional universities have fought “diente e una.” Be sure to look this translation up via one of dozens of language translators on the web or ... wait for office hours to visit a language professor.
For-profit higher education providers are pioneering innovative, competency-based approaches to adaptive learning. These are radical ideas compared to traditional academia. The rub is that these ideas have demonstrated equal-to or better learning outcomes, while at the same time reducing instruction time and lowering costs for students.
For-profit institutions are also far more accepting of transfer credits. At present, the majority of college graduates finish with credits from more than one institution – making this inclusive approach the far more practical one. Additionally, most intro-level courses for undergraduates are commoditized courses, even at elite schools. They are traditionally taught in large auditoriums with graduate assistants doing the “real teaching” in smaller breakout groups.
But attitudes like those of the Duke faculty – who are resisting granting of credit from outside courses – are making the transfer of credits more difficult and the whole degree more expensive.
There is a coming wave of low cost credits offered by MOOCs, Straighterline (a Chancellor University partner) and others that is going to aggressively challenge these assumptions. The acceptance of these credits is a very good path to lowering the cost and improving the quality of higher education. My sense is that even a basketball school like Duke may someday appreciate that idea.