As part of its Personalized Learning initiative, Northern Arizona University (NAU) is launching three online competency-based degree programs. The new degrees will be in the fields of computer information technology, business with a specialization in small business, and liberal studies, and will be available beginning in January.
The programs, which will feature over 90 courses, are being created in collaboration with education services provider Pearson. The development is being underwritten by Next Generation Learning Challenges, a collaborative partnership led by EDUCASE and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Last month, Next Generation presented NAU with a $1 million grant.
Unlike traditional programs—which charge per credit hour, limit the amount of classes that can be taken per semester or quarter, and require students to complete prerequisites in order to proceed—NAU’s new online bachelor’s degrees will charge students $2,500 every six months, place no limits on the number of credits that can be accumulated in a year, and rely heavily upon credit-by-examination. By utilizing credit-by-exam, students will be able to receive credit for prior learning experience.
Another difference between NAU’s degrees and traditional college courses is the role of the professor. The new courses will rely heavily on material learning aids—books, lectures, and automated tutoring software—in order to reduce the cost of offering the degrees. However, it will also reduce the amount of time students can interact with a faculty member. While NAU is anticipating students will interact with a professor about 30 minutes per week, per course, the school will not cap the amount of time a professor can spend with a student.
The concept is to reallocate costly faculty time away from students who can succeed on their own to those who need extra assistance while providing a the tools that will allow students to personalize the degree experience to their individual learning needs. In an interview with Inside Higher Ed NAU administrators stated that by reprioritizing faculty time it will allow professors to assist students with things like finding a work-life balance and brushing up on their study skills, instead of just ensuring that they simply grasp the material.
Pearson has stated that the course modules will provide faculty members with back-end tools designed to monitor and analyze trends in student performance, track achievement in mastering learning objectives, and ensure that a student’s performance is aligning with the program’s competencies.
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