On Open Accreditation

There have been some good comments on my post from yesterday, and interesting posts elsewhere around the net. I realized I needed to clarify my model a bit after reading Stephen’s comment:

A slightly different model has emerged in George’s and my Connectivism course. We have the 20 for-credit students at the University of Manitoba, and the open access students. We’ve published the details of all the assignments. We had a student who signed on as an open access student but who would be submitting her assignments at her home institution, for assessment there. This distributes assessment, allowing for assessment to be basically open-sourced.

In my Introduction to Open Education course, I had 8 or so normally enrolled students at my own university, and dozens more at no university at all who just followed for fun or for the “homemade certificate” which the Chronicle called a “diploma” again and again. But I also had another 8 students or so who were at their own universities, signed up for an Independent Study or Independent Research or Directed Readings kind of course (whichever was least painful to get enrolled in and would count toward their degree). I marked all their assignments and simply submitted a grade to the supervising professor at the end of term. I couldn’t really “outsource” the assessment piece of the course to these students’ supervising faculty, because there was no one at the students’ home institutions who knew anything about open education (hence their desire to take the course from me).

It occurs to me now, though, that this in and of itself is an interesting hack of the higher education system. These students paid tuition and took a course that partially fulfilled their graduation requirements, and my class is not in the universities’ course catalogs and my name is not on their faculty rosters. How much of a degree could you do this way? In a PhD program like the PhD in Instructional Psychology & Technology at BYU, each student is required to complete at least 18 hours in their area of specialization. This is a fairly common model in US graduate schools. In practice there is a huge amount of flexibility in the specialization courses taken, adapted to each individual student’s needs and interests. So if a student took all Independent Studies for these specialization courses and a sequence of six courses from the Edupunk Un-iversity (or Anti-university or Alter-university or Meta-university or whatever it is), they could potentially take 20% of their entire PhD program this way.

Open accreditation may be much closer than we think. We just need to continue to find creative ways to hack our courses into the existing university systems around the globe. At the same time, we need to establish a recognizable brand name for the collection of courses we would offer, so that folks will have heard of them. Until then, we’ll have to ride the strength of our names.

“Dr. Smith? For my specialization courses I’d like to start with a three course sequence from the Edupunk Un-iversity.”
“The what?”
“You know, those classes that David Wiley and Brian Lamb and Stephen Downes and those guys offer online.”
“Oh, sure. Sounds great. Which three?”

Now, these courses may not fit well outside of Instructional Technology type programs, but hey – we’ve got to start somewhere, right? Throw your thoughts about what should be offered over on the new Edupunk Un-iversity page on the OpenContent Wiki. I’ve thrown up some starter ideas, too. And we already have our first student waiting to enroll as per the comments on yesterday’s post – so what are you waiting for? Let the experiments commence! =)

4 thoughts on “On Open Accreditation”

  1. “At the same time, we need to establish a recognizable brand name for the collection of courses we would offer”

    How about the “Open Diversity”? đŸ˜‰

  2. I think you are right on here. It seems to me that creating this kind of open accredidation process might work better in areas where there currently are no accredidation standards or resources. That way, it’ll be able to take root and develop without competing with, or being too shaped by, the current crystallized process.

    George Siemens has some really interesting thoughts on this in his world without courses slides. I’ve tried to summarize some of that here: http://nixty.com/blog/2008/09/20/on-accreditation-and-open-education/

  3. This idea is both absolutely right, too restrictive, and also impractical except as an activity taken on from a volunteer basis. Not only is it theoretically possible to engage in course “remixes,” but people do, either within the structure of several institutions with cross-registration agreements or ad-hoc “swirling.” So on the one hand, this is a significant activity already, and it’s something within the consciousness of many students. (The accreditation issue is far less important than the credit-transfer issue, which isn’t quite accreditation. But I’ll talk about that a little later in this comment.)

    The idea is also too restrictive, because it takes “courses” as the only relevant components of a course. Part of this is the nature of research doctoral education: any doctoral student who thinks that they need to read only the required readings from their coursework is fooling himself or herself and going to get in trouble down the road. More broadly, we’re supposed to be socializing students into an academic (or professional) culture, and that’s not always “covered” by coursework. Some of those extra-curricular socializing experiences can become part of a program structure, as in internships, practica, and the like. But good doctoral students already engage in a good bit of intellectual remixing, both between courses and outside coursework.

    And despite that, the idea is also impractical except where it comes out of the hides of the few faculty who can afford the time for this. There is also an ethical issue; to be honest, I’d never let one of my students take an independent study with me and have me assign a grade when someone else at another institution is doing the work; I think it’s neither intellectually honest of me nor fair to the other institution. What happens if all of my students want to take the course with you, and that happens across the country? You’d either be doubling your workload (or worse!) without pay, or you’d be doing work on BYU’s dime that BYU doesn’t get tuition for. In the meantime (at least in this thought experiment), I accumulate credit hours for my institution without doing a lick of work. Err…. no. As an experiment, it’s interesting. But there needs to be some experimentation around practical structures.

    If there were a generic student-course cost-unit that were easily exchangeable among public universities (and even some privates), that might be a theoretical possibility. Where there are institutions with cross-registration, it’s absolutely doable. But outside some sort of exchange market that treats institutional resources as part of the equation (you do spend time on this stuff), it’s problematic. Given the extensive cost-shifting in higher ed from the public to students and their families, I just don’t think this is going to work scaled up just from the (fascinating!) experimental setups that exist.

    So to the patterns that do exist currently, especially in undergraduate education: swirling and questions of which courses can transfer credit. That’s part of the huge conflict that came out of the Spellings Commission, because some people are advocating that a course is a course, and institutions should not have the right to deny transfer credit to you or me when I’ve taken Postmodern Quantum Basketweaving from the Institute of Occult Studies. There are states that address the vast majority of the issue by having common course systems within public institutions (as Florida does), but that’s not going to satisfy all of the issue, especially going between public and private institutions, or the reverse, or between states, or between for-profit and not-for-profit institutions.

    If you want to continue on this path, I’d strongly suggest you talk with Barmak Nassirian, of AACRAO, so you can use the existing debates to think through the issues instead of getting tangled up in them.

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