Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Packaging Online Courses--What's Inside?

An article today in Inside Higher Ed describes the efforts (and the resistance to them) of a company to provide master's degree programs online for established universities.  The company, Higher Ed Holdings, offers universities the "service" of maintaining courses--using "academic coaches" who do grading and answer email.  (The HEH website has two pages, a home page and an investor page, where they proclaim "investing in education provides outcomes that exceeds profits," clearly noting the profit motive.)

Faculty at the University of Toledo, the article notes, recently rejected contract negotiations with HEH.  But the battle continues at Arkansas State University, where administrators sealed a contract with the company without faculty input:  

The concerns Toledo faculty expressed are shared by many at Arkansas State, where professors fear they’re being forced to develop cookie-cutter courses that can be used by thousands of students at a time.

Higher Ed Holdings officials maintain that faculty control of courses is never compromised, even though the “academic coaches” hired by the company typically have more interaction with students.

“The professor always remains in complete control of the content of his course,” Deborah Nugent, the company’s corporate secretary, wrote in an e-mail. “HEH is not a content provider; rather HEH is a distribution and student support system."

While the company insists universities retain complete control of their programs, contracts between Higher Ed Holdings and two universities -- Arkansas State and Ohio -- both state that "once adopted" the universities "shall not amend the curriculum except with the consent" of the company.

As universities face the challenges of staying afloat in the growing competition of online universities like Capella and The University of Phoenix, they'll have to figure out how to continue to offer a clearly better alternative.  

The article is titled "So Many Students, So Little Time." 

Another article here describes how teachers in north Texas have already identified HEH as a way to get a cheap, easy master's degree.   

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