As a person who considers himself somewhat of a free spirit the thought of standards makes my skin crawl. However, I recognize the fact that without standards too many doors are left open and a whirlwind of miss-practice can result. We have all heard horror stories regarding online/distance education classes and can see where things were heading. So, I think that everyone that works in our field can appreciate the need for standards, even if the thought of them leaves the academic freedom side of us shivering.
When created and implemented correctly standards provide the conceptual framework in which success can be achieved. But what is success? In our case, success is defined as a student successfully completing an online course/program with a certain amount of engagement, structure, and support, but most importantly, without incident. As educators we want our students to be successful. In today’s budget sensitive climate, some might even say we NEED them to be successful. Therefore, standards in distance education are necessary.
As UAA is accredited by Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU), I was very glad to see the NWCCU Distance Education Policy approved in late 2013. The policy is based on previous work and year of past research. These guidelines allow UAA to create its own distance education program, without being over-prescriptive in a one size fits all format. It doesn’t tell us how to do distance education, but it does let us know how success is defined and assess by our accrediting body. As the Director of AI&e, these practical guidelines allow me the freedom to create a framework broad enough to allow for individual academic freedom and still ensure UAA students’ successfully achieve their ultimate goal – graduation.
Our next full accreditation visit is in 2017. During that time, UAA will be evaluated under the new distance policy. Rest assured that everything the team and I at AI&e are doing not only aligns with the NWCCU policy but helps to ensure student success at UAA. I welcome your thoughts, comments, and participation in transforming the online student experience at UAA.