Dean Dad has a good post about the Edupunk movement, which, once you get past the bad boy rhetoric of the people talking about it, is about taking free content--a course from M.I.T.'s Open Courseware here, an online lecture from Stanford there--and making your own university program out of it, the better to (1) tap into the insatiable desire for electronic content on the part of today's students and (2) bring down costs.
Here's the part that caught my attention: "While it has yet to get accreditation, the not-for-profit [Peer2Peer University] plans to offer bachelor's degrees in business and computer science using open courseware and volunteer faculty; fees would add up to about $4,000 for a full four-year degree."
Uh-huh. "Volunteer faculty." What's not to love about working for free? I'm waiting breathlessly to see if the M.I.T. faculty who put their courses online will also forgo their magnificent salaries to participate in this model. Of course faculty who have car payments, mortgage payments, and student loans with lenders notoriously uninterested in being told "sorry, I can't pay you--I'm working for free" will be a little skeptical about this model. Western Governors University has a model that's slightly above free: "For every 80 students, a PhD faculty member, certified in the discipline, serves as a full-time mentor."*
Let's skip over the salary issues and look at what actually counts: student learning.
It's possible that students, especially in technical fields, will be able to learn enough to pass the necessary tests. Can this happen in the humanities? I'd like to think that it's possible. Given truly motivated students, a lively online community conducted by wikis or discussion boards or blogs, and interaction with dedicated faculty, the model could work. Some online classes already use the "canned course" model in which everything is put together by a "master teacher" and delivered by someone who's paid to grade papers and deliver the course.
It seems to me that we (traditional faculty) already use a lot of online content in teaching our courses, but we put it together with a lot more of our own content in ways that create a coherent whole. We discuss the material with our classes. We answer questions. We respond to student writing, and we know when to encourage and when to push the student a little harder. We talk to them. They talk to each other. It's a community of learners. I have an investment in seeing that they learn what they need to learn and that there's a depth of understanding as well as of knowledge.
But if someone comes to you and says "I've put together these 56 sites and am ready to be tested in this for credit; I just need you to sign off on the fact that I know what I'm talking about," what's your answer going to be?
*To be fair, WGU isn't working on the same model as P2P, and having 80 students to mentor may work out to the usual courseload that someone in a trad university would carry.