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Friday, December 27, 2013

A Geographer Looks at EdTech in 2013 - Part 9 - Credit Where its Due

--- This post is the ninth in a ten part series examining top 2013 trends in education technology in the context of GIS and geography education. ---

Watters details the ups and downs of giving actual college credit in new ways such as via competency-based learning and MOOCs. If you are not aware, there are select universities offering credits and degrees via these paths. She also explores alternative credentials like certificates and badges. Where are geography and GIS among these trends?

Competency Based Learning

The two schools that I'm aware of that use a model that focuses on what skills students have or have gained, rather than seat time, are Western Governors University (WGU) and Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). I know about the former because I tried to apply for a job there, but alas course mentors (content experts) must have PhDs. I know of SNHU because it does a lot of advertising here in Massachusetts. Neither yet offer geography or GIS degrees.

Of note, perhaps, in the coming years is what's going on at Northern Arizona University. Its competency-based online degree program called “Personalized Learning,” was accredited this year. That school offers among other things, a GIS certificate. Could that morph into a competency-based degree or certificate here or elsewhere? Stay tuned.


The big news in badges is that Mozilla rolled out its 1.0 badge software program. The news within GIS of which I'm aware relates to just two institutions exploring badges: Skidmore and American Sentinel. It will be at least the end of 2014 before we see how these efforts play out in the geospatial education marketplace and, equally importantly, the geospatial workforce.

Credit via MOOC 

There have been ups and downs with giving college credit for MOOCs. So far the news on balance is not good. Two disappointing situations from 2013:

  • The deal between San Jose State University and Udacity ran aground and now Udacity is pivoting toward corporate training. Here's the latest on the relationship via Inside Higher Ed.
  • An offer from Colorado State University-Global Campus that offered credit for a MOOC via a proctored exam ($89) got no takers. The comparable three credit course was $1,050. 

What's happening in our world of geography and GIS? Credit for a MOOC could be coming soon at Elmhurst College:
Additionally, we will be offering a MOOC in Spring 2014 (probably March or April) that will allow prospective students to gain badges for skills and have a course in the [graduate] program  waived upon full completion of the MOOC. Stay tuned for further details!
Is credit for MOOCs doomed for core courses? For GIS? I don't think so, but clearly the model is still in development.

Credit via AP Exam

The news on AP exams in general is mixed per Watters:
Enrollment in AP classes has been skyrocketing in recent years, although as Politico’s Stephanie Simon reported, “the number of kids who bomb the AP exams is growing even more rapidly.”
And, to my surprise, venerable Dartmouth College, no longer accept AP exams for credit. That I suppose is an interesting statement from the school about competency-based learning or at least the College Board's version of it.

The news on the only AP exam related to geography, the AP Human Geography exam, is more positive. 

In recent years between 25% and 30% of test takers have achieved a 4 or 5, grades typically worthy of college credit (Wikipedia).

Per Rich Schultz at Elmurst College noted other positive signs in an interview on this blog:
Some of our Advisory Board and faculty members in the program are heavily involved with the College Board and noticed that the trend was very clear that APHG was increasing in demand and more and more schools nationally are offering it, at least over the last eleven years (2001-2012).
Elmhurst is launching an online certificate for educators who teach AP Human Geography.


Most colleges and universities have administrations that insure proper accreditation. That said, a few institutions lost accreditation or were threatened with it during the year.

In our world of geography and GIS it's the specialty schools that are having trouble with accreditation. Accreditation sometimes makes a difference to students, but can be key to a university making money: it can be a key stepping stone toward government loans and grants for students. The news from Unmanned Vehicle University (UVU) is still not good:
UVU is not currently accredited. We will start the process in March 2014. We have hired an expert that has experience with our accreditation agency.

While I have yet to see a certificate in geography, the number of them offered, both pre and post baccalaureate, in GIS is growing. New ones are announced nearly every week. The latest data I can find, via the GeoTech Center is from May 2013; but alas I can't even count the number of results from my query.

That said, the range of certificates is quite large. A school or organization can provide a "certificate of completion" for a MOOC. That's quite different from a certificate offered by a reputable university after a four course post graduate course of study that includes a capstone project. So, let the buyer and the potential employer, beware!