A little while ago I blogged about the potential challenge which online education can pose for the traditional model of the university, comparing and contrasting the positions of newspapers and universities as they face online challenges. Now I see that Grant McCracken is also musing that what’s happening to journalism may some day happen to higher education (disintermediating higher education) – the Washington Post also notes that online classes are just cheaper to produce – but then McCracken points out that whilst there may be a move towards self-instruction, the key difference between newspapers and universities is accreditation:
We will continue to need a university, or someone, to certify students have completed their degree requirements, and perhaps how they did. Then the question becomes:
what’s the best way to do accreditation?
The English universities are a useful indicator. Traditionally, they forgave the separation [of] knowledge acquisition from examination. The universities allowed the student an extraordinary latitude. If a student could pass her exams, it didn’t matter if she had spent all her time in the college bar. She was good to go.
We could use a model of this kind. We would leave it to students to prepare their own programs of education, to gather on line with whomever they found interesting and useful. … Students in self instruction will have to decide whether they are ready to sit their exams. They will visit the accreditation website occasionally and examine the oral exams and written ones. They ask themselves, “Could I handle questions of that order?” And if they think they can, they book an appointment, pay their fee, and wait for the examiners to swing back through town. …