Sunday, January 25, 2009

Another voice for a new university alternative

You cannot begin to imagine my surprise this morning when I read John Koster's guest commentary in the Everett Herald suggesting that there was a better way to meet the educational needs of the tri-county area without building a brand new university facility. Koster, the District 1 Representative on the County Council, acknowledges that there will be no funding available for a new university in the short term and perhaps not for quite some time. He is spot on when he expresses concern that our preoccupation with a new university keeps us from focusing on the more pressing needs of students today.

Koster points out that our existing educational infrastructure with advanced information and communications technology (ICT) can deliver a cost effective solution to place-bound students without saddling the taxpayers with excessive levels of debt. He takes a refreshingly broad view of the "educational system" suggesting that resources of local high schools could be used for proctoring tests or lab work. He goes on to challenge us to think about a new paradigm, saying:
Sometimes we do things the way we do simply because that's the way we've always done them. Instead of burdening our tax-weary citizens with building an incredibly expensive traditional school, let's "experience the power" of online technology and recognize what every young person with an iPod, cell phone or Blackberry already knows: An astonishing new world lies at our fingertips, full of opportunities and efficiencies for those who want to learn at the speed of light via the click of a mouse.
Unfortunately, paradigm shifts don't come easily. It is very unlikely that the leaders fighting for the campus have ever encountered any online learning. Their mental model is likely to be of early distance education from 20 years ago, at best. Perhaps they envision the digital equivalent of correspondence school, where the chief determinant of graduation is your check clearing. Maybe, just maybe, Mr. Koster has sufficient political clout to make sure this alternative view get heard throughout the county. Or maybe he'll encounter the same deafening silence that my letters to the editor and blog posts have received.

You may want to read (or reread) my blog post on the Bachelor's of Applied Science in Information Technology and Administrative Management (BAS-ITAM) to see one example of a hybrid program. This program allows students with a two-year Associate's degree in computing and one-year work experience to earn a Bachelor's through Central Washington University at Edmonds Community College by attending both online and onsite classes in Edmonds, Everett and Des Moines.

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