Should CAIS accredit online learning?

One of our team’s values at CAIS is “Well, not rushed.”  You see, we all like to move quickly and get things done efficiently.  Since we are all driven and passionate too, we seem to thrive in this fast environment.  But sometimes a strength can be a weakness, and it is no wonder that two of our CAIS advisors often repeat different but similar messages.  Our editor cautions: “Don’t get trigger happy on this one!” and our strategic advisor reminds us: “This is not five minute rice.”

So we are taking the time to really think about the future of education and the role of online learning.  Last week, a team of six of us toured schools in San Francisco, and when we weren’t in schools, we were debating three main questions:  should CAIS accredit online schools? How should we evaluate online programs? And what is best practice in this area?

I don’t have the answers just yet – striving for well not rushed!! – but I do have some preliminary thoughts after our visit to Stanford’s Online High School.  Our team of six, led by Kevin McHenry, Head of St. Andrew’s, was very fortunate to enjoy time with Kathlyn Gray and her team.  We had loads of time to ask all of our questions – How do you address different personal learning styles?  How do you deal with two of America’s greatest challenges – mental health and obesity? How do you ensure students collaborate?  How does your school compare to the abysmal online course completion rates?  How do you ensure that students don’t cheat on assessments?

This school is very much like one of our CAIS schools.  They have student success stories – check out Nicholas Doherty’s Student Planning App – and a wide variety of program options, both curricular and co-curricular.  At Christmas, they had a gingerbread house-making contest.  And my favourite line of the day came from their Director of Student Life who commented that their Halloween assembly was both “wonderful and weird” as students dressed up and judged costumes, all over the world.

This school, along with one of the founding members of the Global Online Academy, gave us some preliminary answers to our questions on online accreditation.  With thanks to my fellow committee member, Brent Lee, Director of IT at Brentwood, here are a few draft must-haves as we consider the possibility of accreditation:

The school must:

  • Show evidence of low levels of attrition over a three year period
  • Provide highly interactive learning
  • Include co-curricular programming, both off-line and online
  • Pre-assess students’ ability for self-directed learning in order to ensure a good fit for this model of learning
  • Provide ongoing training for teachers
  • Offer counselling

The program must include:

  • Assessment models that ensure integrity, including a proctor for all exams
  • Synchronous communication, including scheduled classes
  • Collaboration, including at least one project to be completed in groups
  • Articulated learning goals, including evidence of targets completed

CAIS will continue to research these questions – next month, we will lead a discussion with the NAIS Commission on Accreditation and meet with the Director of the Online School for Girls.  Our final report will be presented to the Board in August 2014, which means ample time to do this research well.Image

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