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College in the future

The current revolution in education is facilitated by technology, but the nature, cause and outcome of the disruption is not as apparent as it seems. When we think of technology in education, we think most often of programs to use iPads for instruction, of teaching coding across the curriculum, or of having students do online research, but there are more profound technological innovations afoot in education than these.

As Kevin Carey points out in his book, The End Of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere, colleges and universities have tried to do and be three different things for their students: research institutions, centers for liberal arts education, and centers for professional training. The enormous debt load shouldered by students to pay for college is testimony to the sharply inflated cost of a college education in real economic terms. Moreover, the large number of students who don’t complete their degree, whose transcript or degree gives a prospective employer little or no indication what they are capable of, and the wide variety of electives that can result in a degree which is unfocused, ranging over everything and concentrated in nothing, all support Carey’s view that the entire higher education system is failing its students.

Enter ‘Massively Open Online Courses’ (MOOCs), offered initially by MIT but today offered by hundreds of universities, colleges and schools nation-wide. These online courses can have thousands of students across many nations simultaneously enrolled, all accessing the same materials, and having the ability to access online mentoring as necessary, as well as the help of all of their peers taking the course. Such courses are free, and produced by a faculty member of the college or university, a specialist in the academic area. For a small nominal fee, after taking the class an optional verification is provided which sets out the grade, the assessments that were given, and the score on each as well as the curriculum for the course. This is a far cry from a simple letter grade on a transcript that gives no information about the content of the class or how the student was assessed, and also provides no means of comparing students from different schools. This is one reason why we have been strong advocates of the AP exam as it provides an admissions officer at a college or any other interested party a way to objectively compare student performance on a set curriculum.

Technological developments such as these enable our students to complete classes delivered by the foremost professionals in their field, to complete assessments that provide timely and essential feedback metrics on progress, and provide a verification procedure that allows transparent comparison of course content and results. This will further improve our students’ access to the colleges and careers of their choice, and provide them first class training in fields of their expressed interest. In recent years, our students have shown themselves to be extraordinary capable—they have fielded an award winning robotics team, succeeded in statewide community competitions against their peers from public and private schools, have been accepted into top-tier schools and colleges, succeeded on a variety of AP exams—and with100% of our seniors graduating from high school, we look forward to their continued excellent performance, and the realization of their promise. Moreover, we believe that technological innovations such as MOOCs provide an outstanding opportunity for our students to show that they are more than capable of the sustained effort required for success at the highest levels.

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