Training doctors

Davie, Fla.-based Nova Southeastern University was an early pioneer in the realm of online learning – the school began offering an online master’s degree program back in 1986. Limited by the technology of the times, that master’s degree in computer-based learning was entirely text-based, with instructors typing out a lesson and students responding with typed questions.

Flash-forward to 2010, and Nova had advanced tools such as “interactive teleconferencing,” which it used to train doctors in Iraq on emergency pediatric procedures. In a room located thousands of miles away, the Iraqi students practiced their techniques on plastic dummies, while Nova instructors at the Davie campus virtually looked over their shoulder online.

Where will things go from here? Perhaps the future will be something like the fully online (and bargain-priced) bachelor’s degree programs that UF will launch next year. State lawmakers in April approved a new initiative where UF will offer online bachelor’s degrees priced at no more than 75 percent of the university’s face-to-face tuition. With Floridians increasingly struggling to pay for college tuition, state leaders have pitched online classes as a way to rein in the cost of getting a degree.

But W. Andrew McCollough, associate provost for teaching and technology at UF, warns that online classes don’t automatically solve the college-affordability problem.

“There is no inexpensive way to develop quality online learning,” McCollough said. “If you’re going to maintain the quality you insist on, you need scale.”

That means online classes of 200 students, not 20, McCollough said. Regarding MOOCs, McCollough views the gigantic courses as an initiative to freely spread the knowledge of the nation’s best professors worldwide – but without awarding college credit.

Others think MOOCs will eventually shift to a for-credit model, thereby allowing students to take a sizable chunk of their college courses for free. But for now, only a handful of colleges nationwide grant transfer credits for a completed MOOC.


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