USA lecturers union opposes online degrees

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10th Aug 2000
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The American Federation of Teachers has passed a resolution that opposes undergraduate degrees that are earned entirely online.

At their recent convention, the union, which represents more than one million teachers and tutors in higher education, called for control of Web-based courses to remain with teachers and tutors. A resolution passed unanimously by the union states that an undergraduate degree earned entirely from a distance is not of the same quality as a degree that was earned in a classroom. Union members agreed that online undergraduate degrees should have at least some face-to-face elements in them, "with exceptions permitted on a case-by-case basis for students truly unable to participate in classroom education."

"At a certain point you have to say: No, it's not a real undergraduate degree if it doesn't include people getting together," said Lawrence N. Gold, higher-education director for the federation.

The 3,100 delegates also approved a set of 14 quality standards for college-based distance education, the main points of which are:

  • Academic faculties must maintain control of shaping, approving and evaluating distance education courses

  • Distance education students must be given advance information about course requirements, equipment needs and techniques for succeeding in a distance learning environment, as well as technical training and support throughout the course

  • Student-teacher interaction needs to be determined through the same procedures used for traditional courses. Close personal interaction needs to be maintained in distance education courses and whenever feasible, opportunities for same-time same-place interaction should be provided

  • Equivalent library materials and research opportunities should be made available to distance education students

  • Assessment of student knowledge, skills and performance should be as rigorous as assessments in classroom-based courses

  • Academic counseling and advising should be available to distance learning students at the same level as it is for students in more traditional campus environments

  • Full undergraduate degree programmes should include classroom-based coursework, with exceptions on a case-by-case basis for students truly unable to participate in classroom education.

The guidelines will be used in the future for negotiating contracts with US colleges and universities.

The resolution echoes the views of Open University Vice-Chancellor Sir John Daniel, vice-chancellor of The Open University, who stated at a conference in May that new new techology was not a replacement for print on paper as the most powerful learning medium within higher education.

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