Florida to Choose Flagship Uni for Online Education Efforts

Florida's university system Board of Governors plans to designate one of the state's universities to be its flagship in developing online education. The Miami Herald's Tia Mitchell says that while they have not yet chosen a university, the Board heard a presentation by the University of Florida.

With online education busting out all over, every state is working on how much control it needs to exert over processes that are not yet well understood. Florida's Strategic Planning Committee is concerned that its 12 public universities may forge ahead with pioneering online models without coordinating their trials with each other. Other legislators have expressed different concerns, particularly wanting to make sure that the state stays at the cutting edge of technology. Florida's House Speaker had already been discussing options, such as creating a state online-only university. Not surprisingly, the state's existing universities did not support the plan, and the Speaker has decided not to push for it.

Instead, Florida will work with one school to develop methods and test them as rigorously as possible. The Board's press release laid out a plan:

The Board of Governors should use preeminence metrics, approved by the Board for use in university workplans, to determine a university that would offer a new, separate arm of high-quality online degree programs to students in Florida and across the globe. The designated university should also create a research center to develop cutting-edge technology and instructural design of online programs and ensure the success of online students.

The Legislature will be asked to fund this project, and universities will develop proposals. While only one will be chosen for the pilot project, the state's intention is that within a short time, the new methods will be used in all of the universities.

"The world of online higher education is ever-changing, and there are many opportunities for improvement," said John D. Rood, chair of the Strategic Planning Committee. "Through this process, we are confident Florida will emerge as as an even stronger national leader in online education—not only for providing high-quality offerings to our students, but for developing best practices that meet the strategic needs of Florida."

Other states are looking at the same issues, particularly those whose uncertain budgets make online courses an attractive option. California recently set a policy that within a few years, 10% of its state university courses will be available online. The plan is that courses will be free to enrolled students in public universities, but they will save costs in brick and mortar expansion. The state has seen fluctuating income and student enrollment and is not sure how to plan. Online courses still require human teachers, but they can be designed so that one teacher can handle more students without needing a room and chairs.

Of course, private universities are still free to experiment, and many are doing so. The University of Southern California recently held a professors' retreat to talk about what each department is doing with online options. Some were using the internet to broadcast lectures and demonstrations to remote places, while others were creating learning games that bridged from the internet to the real world. Carnegie Mellon University designed a course for learning languages that uses the structure of online games instead of grades. Learners lose "lives" for mistakes and gain points for their profile by making progress.

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