Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a bill into law last week to encourage the state's K-12 and higher education systems to use massive open online courses, or MOOCs.
The law has narrower scope than early versions of the bill but its critics remain deeply concerned. An earlier proposal could have allowed anyone to create and seek “Florida-accredited” status for courses that Florida's public colleges and universities would have to granted credit for.
The bill Scott signed allows MOOCs, under certain conditions, to be used to help teach K-12 students in four subjects and also orders Florida education officials to study and set rules that would allow students who have yet to enroll in college to earn transfer credits by taking MOOCs.
Tom Auxter, the president of the 7,000-member United Faculty of Florida, said "intense and feverish" opposition from faculty helped scale back the plan. Still, he warned of a generation of "cheap and dirty" online courses offered to students before they enroll in college. “No matter how many times they use ‘quality,’ this is a cheapening of what higher education is all about,” Auxter warned, referring to supporters of MOOCs for credit.
Republican State Senator Jeff Brandes, who sponsored early versions of the bill, did not give the unions or faculty credit for the changes.
Much remains up in the air now, though. Brandes said he expected the scope of the law to eventually be expanded. Much will also be decided in coming months as state education officials study the issue and set rules about how to use MOOCs for college credit. “We’re giving them two years to set up all the rules and procedures they need to allow us to work with Udacity, or edX or Coursera to offer their wealth of knowledge in Florida,” Brandes said, referring to three MOOC providers.
Dean Florez, a former California state senator who leads the Twenty Million Minds Foundation and generally supports efforts to expand online education, said the Florida law encourages "practices that consider the future of the classroom from the early years into college.”
“Florida has recognized the opportunities inherent in MOOCs and in admirable fashion reached consensus on a bill incorporating all public education systems, from K-12 to higher ed,” he said in a statement.