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An Offer for Online For-Profits
May 11, 2010 - 9:26pm

My offer is to evaluate the quality of a (hopefully representative) sample of your online course design and report the results in this space.

I will not be able to evaluate the quality of your faculty, or the interaction in the course. This means that my evaluation will be limited to judging the quality of the course design and course curricular materials available through your online platform.

Why do I make this offer?

Mainly, I'm curious if any online for-profit colleges will take me up on it.

We have some disconnect between the worlds of for-profit and non-profit education providers.

Sometimes, we hear that the quality of the online courses from the for-profits is very high. For-profits can invest inputs in course designers and course design. For-profit institutions can impose a uniform standard for course design, one that is informed by a continuous data-driven improvement model. Courses can be staffed by faculty who are skilled in teaching, guiding and mentoring - leaving the course design process to professional learning designers and subject-matter experts. This iterative process should create uniformly high quality course designs.

In other places we hear that the online course design in for-profit settings plays to the lowest common denominator. Rigor, innovation, and a focus on learning are not the primary concerns in course design - rather convenience and ease of use are prioritized.

This latter view is reflected in the PBS Frontline show, "College Inc."

Below is from the transcript from the show for the brief section that dealt with a for-profit online course.

"An on-line course at Grand Canyon costs from $400 to $550 a credit hour. We watched an on-line class at another school. We were asked - and agreed - not to show it, but for the most part, it's just instructor-led discussion groups. There's little in the way of video or graphics. But it is convenient."

I don't believe a course needs to be media heavy to be high quality, although this is certainly an aspect. Areas that I'd look toward in evaluating a course would be:

a) A clear narrative flow and internally consistent logic to the course design.

b) The presence of well thought out unit (module) learning outcomes, with activities to support the stated outcomes.

c) Lots of opportunities for student interaction, collaboration, and creativity.

d) Strong curricular materials (and yes some multimedia in the form of faculty voice-over presentations and curricular media), as well as articles and links.

e) Formative assessment, scaffolded assignments and project based learning.

Having never seen what a for-profit online course looks like, I have no way of judging the quality of their design.

I look forward to hopefully someone taking me up on the offer.


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