I recently attended a conference that focused on accreditation. There are several regional accrediting bodies in the US that are sanctioned by the United States and you should know if the educational institution you are paying is accredited or not and you should also know whether or not that accrediting organization is recognized by the US Dept of Education. The Center of Higher Education Accreditation is found at this website and provides links to more information on Accreditation. As the CHEA notes on their website, “To be recognized means that the accreditors in the database have been reviewed by the CHEA or USDE and meet the quality standards of the respective organizations.”
There is a great deal of pressure on accrediting organizations, especially the regional accrediting bodies to become more regulatory versus “quality assurance,” focused in order to ensure that the student is receiving the education necessary to prepare/him her for a career. There has been special focus put on distance education and in 2006 the U.S. Department of Education Office of Postsecondary Education, published a report entitled: Evidence of Quality in Distance Education Programs Drawn from the Interviews with the Accreditation Community.
Specific highlights from that report are as follows:
The mission statement should provide some reference to the offerings in distance education. Evaluation of the distance education program will include some review of the missions statement to ensure that the institution sees it as a good fit. Does the mission/strategic plan identify the student who will be in the online courses/program and their unique needs, cause of attrition, and support services? This will include some reference to increasing access as well as reaching out to underserved or special populations. The distance education program should be referred to in the strategic plan with some focus on why the institution is developing courses or programs.
The institution should also have in place a procedure, which defines how the programs or courses are planned, developed and approved to offer online. Is there a quality assurance process in place. How are the faculty involved in the process of determining what goes on line and what is their role in the process of approval of online offerings. Are faculty trained in online education, is there a common platform used for delivering online programs and course, are the course formats consistent, and is there a schedule of course offerings laid out for a couple of years so students can plan. Are course descriptions clear with clearly stated learning objectives? Are the assignments and assessment strategies connected to the learning objectives? Are online courses equivalent to the face to face offerings. In developing the courses, it is critical that a clear road map be laid out for the student to follow in order to be successful. This map should include clearly defined benchmarks for the student to achieve, clear deadlines, etc. It is key that a course be defined with strategies that encourage interaction between instructor and students, student and student and student with content.
Several courses should be reviewed to ensure that the quality and design are consistent across the institution. The online content should be reviewed to ensure quality, consistency and added value to the textbook or primary content. In addition to this online course curricula should be reviewed by curriculum committees, however, should not vary from the face to face degree. Should enrollment caps be established due to the challenges of meeting the needs of the distance education instructor?
Many institutions have used and continue to use Best Practices for Electronically-Offered Degree and Certificate Programs, an online learning program and course development and continuous quality improvement guide developed by the eight regional accrediting bodies. It is expected that an educational program incorporating distance learning will consider the core principles, and the relevant standards.
Learning objectives should be well defined, curricula developed in a way that prepares students in an organized and coherent fashion, and assessment that is linked to the learning outcomes and measure student learning. Assessment should provide the educators and institution with the information needed for course and program improvement with an emphasis on program quality. In addition to this the institution is responsible to ensure that the student is receiving adequate services and support to be successful.
While at the conference I learned about the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI), which is a Committee that advises the Secretary of Education on matters related to postsecondary (or higher education) accreditation and the eligibility and certification process for higher education institutions to participate in the Federal student aid programs. On the website I found this document, NACIQI Draft Final Report Higher Education Accreditation Reauthorization Policy Recommendations; February 8, 2012, I will summarize some highlights as follows and some thoughts from what I learned at the conference:
It was not the original purpose of accreditation to serve as a regulatory agency, however, it has been used by Federal Financial Aid to serve as a mechanism to determine whether or not student attending a particular institution should receive financial aid. Accreditation reviews, processes and information are focused on quality, it is a review process conducted by peers, and conducted by those who have in depth knowledge of academia and what is quality. Is there pressure for Regional Accreditors to serve more of a regulatory role. Perhaps..from the NACIQI website I pulled the following.
NACIQI is making the following recommendations:
1. Clarify and articulate common understandings about the responsibilities of each member of the triad. (Federal, State, and Regional Accreditation)
2. Coordinate/increase communication among actors to achieve greater commonality across the quality assurance/eligibility enterprise. Increased communication among the members of the triad may identify common concerns and shareable data.
3. Encourage the states’ engagement with consumer protection and investigation, whether within or outside the processes of accreditation.
Our (NACIQI) recommendations concerning the state role include:
4. Determine what mechanisms will best insure that critical quality assurance/eligibility expectations are set across institutions and agencies nationwide.
5. Draw on the convening capacity and function of the federal level to develop models for triad articulation and to promote greater engagement and consistency across states.
6. Evaluate whether the diversity of state regulation across the country might be shaped to incorporate recognition of the growth of cross-state (and, indeed, cross-nation) educational activity.
7. Encourage state effort to assure the adequacy of consumer information and the accountability of institutions and programs providing education within the state. State experiences and “best practices” would be a useful topic of conversation in a federally-convened process, as would the development of a common understanding of a minimum level of consumer protection.
Although accreditors stand prepared to carry out these gatekeeping functions and to manage the inherent tensions, the potential for risk and legal action associated with application of rigorous standards may be greater than a single accreditor is prepared to sustain. Our (NACIQI) recommendation here is:
8. Explore either assigning the more risky, litigation-prone elements of the gatekeeping function to a different quarter (e.g., a more independent entity or process created by accreditors collectively) or providing resources and/or indemnification to accreditors to reduce the legal risk and burden (not from the Federal Government). This would extend beyond the provision for initial arbitration already in statute.
9. Encourage a dialogue within the accreditation community about the structure and organization of the accreditation enterprise. The diversity of educational activity and mission today may call for a system of accreditation that is aligned more closely with mission or sector or other educationally relevant variable, than with geography. This dialogue may also afford institutions greater opportunity to choose among accreditors.
Our (NACIQI) recommendations concerning flexibility and nuance in the review process include:
10. Afford the federal and accreditor participants greater opportunity and encourage them to distinguish among applicants with more varied levels and durations of review, such that the greater review effort is addressed to accreditors and institutions that present greater potential cause for concern and those whose circumstance may call for additional, supplemental, or heightened review. Ensure that such distinctions do not engender discriminatory action nor arise from the application of differential standards.
Education is changing and open education is at the forefront of that change. I had a chance to look at Udemy and even participate in the Poetry course being offered there. The mission of Udemy is simple:
Udemy’s goal is to disrupt and democratize the world of education by enabling anyone to teach and learn online.
It seems natural to me that I mention sites such as Udemy following my post on accreditation. Institutions will “buckle” under the weight of the new regulations and in order to survive and thrive they will move to more openness in online education offerings that lead to a process by which the student will certify his/her learning via assessment. It is the assessment, which will more than likely be vetted by some professional organization, that will lend the student’s education credibility. No financial aid necessary, if the student can afford to pay for the certification of his/her learning he/she can then demonstrates expertise in a course of study.
Furthermore, Udemy provides the following for instructors:
- Build Your Brand
- Access Tens of Thousands of Students
- Sell Your Course (or give it away), and
- Leave a Legacy
What this means, essentially, is that we are creating “learning institutions of one,” and I love it. In essence what we are offering is what we know, what knowledge we have created, and choosing how we wish to deliver it to those who wish to learn from us! If I were to return to pursue further education today, it would be to study the arts, literature, and writing. Now via open education and this sort of access I can pursue my dream.
The Open Education Conference for 2012 is held in October in Vancouver, British Columbia. The conference website makes this statement, “Open Education has come of age…” I have to agree. I suppose the vision for open education differs from person to person, however it is this that I have agreed with the most..bringing the knowledge of the world to all ..so we can understand our world better, our problems, and collective develop solutions..it’s the development of collective intelligence all moving towards the common good.
Open Archive has also provided access or created a portal for open education resources on the web.
The Open Education Resources Wikicommons with a database of 114 OER resources.
Open Education Resource Foundation: according to their website they are an independent, not-for-profit organization that provides leadership, international networking and support for educators and educational institutions to achieve their objectives through Open Education.
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation: Since 2002, the Hewlett Foundation has worked with OER grantees to improve education globally by making high-quality academic materials openly available on the Internet. Some OER projects this foundation has funded include:
Foundation is funding:
- MIT OpenCourseWare
- African Virtual University
- Creative Commons
- Widernet eGranary
- The Connexions Project
- OER at Utah State University
- Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative
OER is here to stay. This initiative, born in 2002 by the Hewlett Foundation has taken off in many directions and is part of the future education landscape!
When I start out writing a blog I promise myself that I will keep writing until I can’t sit and write anymore. Writing and research for the Change11 course has been challenging for me over the last several months. It has been exciting to see and participate in this evolution in learning and education. If you are in education today you can’t deny the impact that OER is making on higher education. It will be fascinating to continue to watch this evolve.