By Sean Scarpiello
Recently in Florida, government officials have come up with revolutionary idea for education in their state. This goal is to create another university—Florida’s 13th overall. The idea at first sounds absurd, as the economy is still poor and universities cost millions of dollars to build and maintain. However, this new university will not cost millions of dollars, as it does not need new academic and administrative buildings, labs, a gym, or dorms. This is because this new university will be based solely on online learning.
This idea is great for a number of reasons. First, this will act as one of the main pilot programs which full online universities and education professionals will be able to draw from to improve online universities in the future. Furthermore, since this university is created and run by the state of Florida, we can expect that the credits gained by the students at the school will be recognized throughout the country. At the moment, programs such as Udacity are great for learning, but the courses students take do not count as college credit. Udacity and similar programs teach students that are looking to improve their own skills and knowledge. However, this new online university is state run, so it will need to go through an accreditation program that certifies the school. All other colleges in the United States must pass certain requirements to ensure that courses are detailed and rigorous enough to meet certain standards. This would in turn allow students to take a computer science course online, and then transfer to another college or university to have the credits transfer. Although programs like Udacity are led and taught by credible professors, the institutions themselves are not accredited, therefore courses through these programs do not count at other colleges. It will be interesting to see how this plays out because this is an entirely new realm in education.
This probably means that online courses would need to meet the same criteria as a traditional course. However, due to stark differences in the way education is delivered, a whole new system of accrediting an online university may be needed. This will hold especially true as more and more education professionals are pushing to bring education available to more people at lower costs. This may also mean that programs such as Udacity would also begin to try and become accredited under the same standards, thus leading to the creation of more privately owned and operated online colleges.
In light of all of the reduced costs to create this university, this does not mean it will be a simple feat. Government officials looking to create this online university will need to seek help from education professionals. This is because so much more than the course material goes into teaching a course. Teaching needs to be tailored to needs of individual students on a large scale. It is not enough to simply post lectures online or pages of notes online, then expect students to pass tests. In addition to all of this, professors and other education professionals need to be involved as well. Many college professors are not in a position to record themselves lecturing, post videos or notes, and determine grading requirements. This is made even more difficult when designing classes like biology, chemistry, or physics, where time in a lab is required for credits. Even in classes such as political science or English, professors need to find ways to access learning effectively and efficiently. For example, it would be extremely difficult for a professor or a group of educators to grade thousands of essays at a time, all based on the same criteria. So we really need to find ways to access students’ ability to write, but without them writing a lot-- which will be very difficult to do.
Overall, we can see that a new online university will lead to a number of changes in the education field. As the program is state run, it will probably need to meet accreditation requirements to be recognized by the academic world. This in turn will lead to other institutions looking to also enter this new market by meeting these same requirements. Although the low costs and other benefits to online education are appealing, this will not be a simple endeavor. Education professionals and professors need to be kept in the picture while designing and implementing the new online university. If not, the program is sure to fail.