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Online public university needs stronger foundation

Published: Thursday, May 24, 2012

Updated: Thursday, May 24, 2012 11:05

The economic situation calls for innovation in all respects, and education is no exception. Florida legislators are searching for a means of progress that will allow a surge in creativity and merit — and this beacon of education is apparently an online school.

While online education has its worth and potential, the curriculum must be based on an academically sound foundation, which Florida does not boast.

Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, requested the Board of Governors conduct a cost-benefit analysis for an online school. Though online universities such as DeVry University and Strayer University are not uncommon, no such state programs exist. 
Weatherford told Businessweek that an online school would be “the wave of the future,” and his support for the initiative holds merit. A recent study by Ithaka S+R, a nonprofit focused on technology and education, compared two introductory-level statistics courses — one taught online and one taught by a professor in a traditional classroom setting. The study, released this week, found that the students in both settings were equally versed in the material, though the online group learned faster.

In the Journal of Online Education, online education expert Fred DiUlus said that the future of higher education lies in a 24/7 online education. And while recent free online class offerings by Harvard and MIT may suggest that the Florida legislature is headed toward an inventive path, the basis of the system must be examined.

The foundation of online classes lies in the curriculum they mirror from traditional classrooms, and a solid traditional educational system must exist before any progress occurs. Though a state online school seems appealingly progressive, it will have no significant impact on the Florida education system until its basis is improved, especially since Florida’s graduation rate was ranked 44 in the nation in 2011.

Moreover, the recent $300 million cut to Florida universities suggests a shortage in support. Though the results of the cost-benefit analysis of the online school remains to be seen, any significant amounts could be directed toward traditional universities. If, however, the value is reasonable, justification must be made for funding an online school that would benefit rural and urban areas over funding traditional education that caters to a pre-existing population.

Innovation is important, and especially in the face of increasing pressure and technology improvements. However, because of the suggested low costs of online schools, the effect of more competitive schools moving toward an online medium must be considered. The value of state online forms may not compare to those of top-tier schools.

A focus on improving the educational system as is would lead to more significant progress in the long run.

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