More questions than answers about online learning at UT

Francis D. Fisher

Daily Texan columnist Amil Malik urges UT to “get on board with online education as soon as possible” (4/1/13).    This echoes The Daily Texan plea last October  asking UT and our regents for “a clear vision of what a technology-based university degree will look like” (10/23/12).

To be sure, UT has helped redesign a few courses in ways that use technology. But major policy questions are still unaddressed. These questions arise because it is now clear that some college subjects can be learned as well from a computer as from a professor in a classroom. So, what should UT do with a student who demonstrates such competence?

Should it recognize learning? Only when it has been acquired on campus, when it has been acquired partly on campus and partly online from course material developed by UT, and when it has been acquired UT knows not where and doesn’t care?

Probing further, what demonstrations of competence is UT prepared to recognize? Would “recognition” not only aid placement in advanced courses, but count as part of the requirements for a UT degree? 

And what encouragement would UT give a professor who wanted to develop a completely online course, or contribute to the design of the needed competency tests? Who would have intellectual ownership in a developed course? How much, if anything, should a student pay for such learning, if developed at UT? Who should develop the competence and assume responsibility for pointing a student at good online learning materials wherever to be found?

The University of Wisconsin has announced a “Flexible Option” which will grant credit to students without the requirement of spending time on campus or being enrolled in any UW online learning. At present, the option applies to only a few subjects as the faculty produces or substantiates the necessary assessment instruments.  Is this a model that looks attractive to the UT System?

Francis D. Fisher
Senior Research Fellow, LBJ School of Public Affairs