You may remember that my Dec. 12th post entitled "No More Living in Shame" dealt with the topic of the perceived (lack of) quality found in online programs. There is certainly plenty of evidence available today that puts to rest the notion that online programs, are, by definition, inferior to face-to-face learning experiences (e.g. Please click here if you want to get a copy of the 2009 U.S. Dept of Education meta-analysis of online learning evidence-based effective practices.) Nevertheless, as the SNL skit also showed, there continues to be room for improving the perception of quality of online experience where post-secondary education is concerned.
My post for today is a story about one such notable effort. The timing to share seems apropos. Yesterday's story in the Chronicle of Higher Education describes efforts of public institutions to confront the "marketing machines" of for-profit institutions. I'm glad to share a different kind of story, one that shows institutions from all sectors coming together in shared support of learners regardless of physical location.
To begin, let me introduce the Presidents' Forum. Established in 2004, this is a group of leaders from accredited, national, adult-serving higher educational institutions and programs that have, as noted on their website "...embraced the power and potential of online education". The mission of the Presidents' Forum is to advance the recognition of innovative practice and excellence in online learning. This is accomplished by providing a venue for leaders in higher education and stakeholders to share their knowledge and learn from others' best practices. The Presidents' Forum provides both traditional and non-traditional institutions with opportunities "to exchange knowledge and perceptions of current models and tools for successful operation in an online environment". Charter institutions feature representatives from the public, private and for-profit sectors, including:
- American Intercontinental University Online
- American Public University System
- Capella University
- Charter Oak State College
- Colorado Technical University
- Excelsior College
- Franklin University
- Kaplan University
- Regis University
- Rio Salado College
- Southwestern College
- Union Institute & University
- Western Governors University
Even though these institutions compete for students, they all recognize that the value they would collectively realize by making a public commitment to transparently would benefit all online learning stakeholders. The Transparency by Design Initiative of the Presidents' Forum proposed sharing comparative information to help educate adult learners about online learning program choices. In 2008, TBD Initiative leaders chose WCET, an operating unit of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, to provide quality assurance on the standards of data reporting jointly developed by the charter institutions. Data models have been created to enable comparisons between programs, in the hope that universities and colleges focused on improving quality would gravitate toward efforts encouraging greater accountability and transparency. In late 2008, Lumina Foundation for Education provided a grant to WCET to fund the development of the Transparency by Design initiative and the student-centered website, College Choices for Adults. The Transparency by Design initiative supports Lumina Foundation for Education's mission to ensure that 60 percent of Americans are college-educated by 2025.
I had an opportunity to attend the January meeting of the Executive Committee of the Presidents' Forum as a guest. I was very impressed to be with the chief executive officers of nationally known online colleges and universities, all united in their shared desire to improve the value and quality of the online learning experience. Their unanimity underscores the fact that that completing accredited degree courses and programs over the Internet have crossed into the mainstream expectation of higher education today. That's great news for learning technologies advocates.
To those brave executives who are baring their statistics... Good on ya!! One has to imagine that it's not particularly comfortable sharing information that might possible be used by competitors. There's got to be a measure of comfort in knowing that accurate data about the status of one's programs is the best way to make informed decisions about ways to improve. And at a time when online learning is growing in its impact and influence, wouldn't you prefer to be a part of the quality conversation, on the excellence side??
I promised I would make this pitch: If you represent a regionally-accredited, adult-serving distance education institution seeking to improve access to information for adults learning at a distance, please visit the Join Transparency by Design page for more details. Questions can be addressed to Cali Morrison, Project Coordinator of Transparency by Design (303-541-0234; email@example.com).