Open Education and Accreditation

We’ve had plenty of talking and blogging about open certification or open credentialing of learning mediated by open educational resources. One thing I don’t think we’ve talked about yet is the role of openness and open educational resources on program accreditation.

When you think about what accreditors want, they want to know exactly what your program is doing, exactly how you’re doing it, how you’re capturing data, how you’re using that data to make your program better, etc. Basically, accreditors are interested in transparency and accountability. Can you think of a better way to create and facilitate transparency and accountability than putting all your department’s courses in OCW and taking pro-open stance on other department output like research publications and policy documents? A few questions:

How would the accreditation process differ if your department had made a major commitment to OCW and openness? How would the accreditation visit differ if your department had made a major commitment to OCW and openness? Can you imagine it going faster? Can you imagine the team arriving with a deep knowledge of all your courses, how they’re taught, and how they’re assessed?

Given the huge list of (sometimes meaningless) things accreditation bodies feel empowered to require programs to do, why would they not require OCW and openness from the programs they review? In addition to all the public good this mandated sharing would do, it would also significantly simplify (and therefore improve) the accreditation process.

Since this seems to be such a great idea, benefiting so many people and removing so many painful layers and hours of pointless administrivia, it may never happen. But who knows… perhaps there is an enlightened accreditation body out there somewhere?

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  • One has to ask why do we need accreditors in the first place? When universities came to me in high school, they told me if I wanted a good job, I need to go to college. But are the things I learn at State U really preparing me to succeed in the workplace? Who knows best of all what skills are needed to succeed in the workplace? Why, the workplace itself, that’s who.

    When Western Governors University put together their assessments to test competency, they worked very closely with businesses, asking them what skills and knowledge they wanted to see in their employers. WGU based their assessments on that dialogue with businesses.

    I know getting in bed with businesses is often unpopular in the world of higher education, but businesses want talented, well-rounded, skillful individuals probably as much if not more than accreditors.

    I wonder how long it will be until businesses look at all this open content out there and just decide to develop their own tests, saying ‘If you can pass this test, it’s good enough for us. No degree needed.’

  • Quick thought: It seems in this any most other “win-win” situations, that we have to be careful asserting what would happen.

    Mandated participation could surely simplify the accreditation process. Given the little I know about the current state and temper of the beast, however, it seems equally likely that accreditation agencies could find some way for it to do just the opposite.

  • Rob

    Accreditation’s last stand is assessment. A school’s standards are only as good as their assessment methods. If a school grants a degree or a diploma, what is really taking place?

    If (as many argue) the school is making some kind of guarantee or certification to future employers of the newly credentialed student, then just what is that guarantee?

    If I were hiring people, I wouldn’t care much about their official educational credentials. I know far too many incompetent people with degrees to believe that a degree means much more than that a person is willing to see something through to the end.

  • Two quick points–employers like Boeing are already doing their own ranking of schools based upon their performance, Accreditation does not prevent us from working them.

    Accreditors are misrepresented here: They are often our best partners in dealing with skeptical state legislatures and various federal efforts to mandate the NCLB, college edition. Accreditors, after all, tend to support faculty leadership in assessment. Our job is to provide that leadership–as openly as possible.

  • Often experience counts for far more than an accredited education and rightly so. The problem exists in those early days before an individual has any valuable experience in the workplace. Without some sort of higher education, there is nothing that distinguishes him from any other 18 year old. And this is a pretty competitive world in which to risk being unremarkable.

    Passing a test set by a business is all very well. Indeed, it’s a great exercise for both the employer and the future employee, but tertiary education is about more than passing tests, or even what one studies. The information you absorb is likely to be useless to you in the long run, but it’s more about the process of learning than what you learn. Higher education teaches you to think maturely which is beneficial in the workplace for companies and their staff. The chances are, that it is your higher education that will give you the know-how to shine in the test set by your future employer’s business.

    The balance probably lies somewhere in the middle though; there will always be people who will not go to college or university and be wildly successful and there are innumerable incompetent people out there with fancy letters behind their names.

    Of course, traditional universities are the antithesis of the ‘open’ philosophy and being an enthusiastic proponent of open education makes my belief in getting a good degree from a good school a difficult thing to reconcile.

  • I think the accreditation needs tremendous scrutiny. There seems to be far too much latitude in allowing schools to skate close to and into diploma mill territory.
    I have been on the inside and outside of the university system, and as a current small business owner, I need students who have critical thinking skills, the ability to deduct patterns in emerging situations, and react thoughtfully and intelligently. Students who are a product of 5 week courses, packed with 30 students do not and cannot meet these simple criteria.
    One of the local private colleges has the audacity to have roadside billboards which state: “I earned my 48 hour MBA in just one year!”. Indeed.
    There is something wrong with an accreditation that allows such a thing to exist.
    Additionally, I am now convinced that accreditation should be managed by an international body. Credit hours from distance learning systems from around the world should be allowed to accumulate towards a degree. It’s time for higher education to become globalized as well.