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The Future of Education: What Happens to Accreditation Under an Open Education Model?

Tanya Gupta's picture

In our last blog The Future of Education: Amazon or an eBay Model? "Anonymous" posted an excellent question:

"Very insightful, and I agree with most of the premises. The only one that stands out is the accreditation/social validation angle. IIT or Harvard graduate has a validation angle to employers, which will not go away for top institutions".

We had the exact same comment from a colleague on the blog recently and this blog summarizes some views on the subject:

Certification is certainly an interesting issue.  The biggest challenge in innovation is envisioning a new paradigm and abandoning the old constructs. Certification may just be a construct of the old paradigm.  The fundamental purpose of accreditation is to serve as a currency of competency.   There are at least two possible ways it could play out in the new paradigm:

  1. Completely crowdsourced evaluation of quality: Crowdsourced ratings are pretty robust (the success of Amazon's MTurk is a good example even if it doesn't deal with ratings).  But if we have a good rating system incorporated on the platform, it should satisfy the demand side of the equation.  This takes care of determining whether a course is good or bad.  However, you still need to determine how well the individual students achieved the intended course outcomes (“the grade”).   For this, we could have each student rated by his or her instructors.  You could also have well designed, secure online tests.  Or  the hiring company could also do the testing.
  1. Distributed top down accreditation: This takes place when accreditation becomes more decentralized - from a monopoly to an oligopoly of sorts.  Badges are a good example -- there are already several initiatives under the systems of "badges" to certify skills and abilities.  Recently, there was a competition to enable applicants to create and test badges and badge systems. It was sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation and others under a $2 million “Digital Media and Learning Competition”.  The competition was intended to spur innovation in the ways digital badges can be used to “help people learn; demonstrate their skills and knowledge; unlock job, educational and civic opportunities; and open new pipelines to talent”.  On a side note, Secretary Duncan has called badges a "game-changing strategy" and has personally initiated a ED (Department of Education) and VA Initiative prize for the best badge concept and prototype that serves veterans.

According to the Chronicle, the biggest push for badges is coming from industry/education reformers, rather than from traditional educational institutions. Mozilla, the author of the Firefox Web browser, is working on a framework to let anyone with a Web page—colleges, companies, or even individuals—issue education badges designed to prevent forgeries and give potential employers details about the distinctions at the click of a mouse.  Organizations such as Treehouse and Khan Academy both offer some version of badges.  Among the universities, the University of Southern California is involved in badge platforms through its Joint Educational Project, “which will reward skills such as "mentorship," which can be earned through volunteer work”.

Picture credit: flickr user riacle

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