Education experiment in Wisconsin worth watching here in Oklahoma

The Oklahoman Editorial Published: January 29, 2013
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WHAT has historically been thought of as education is changing every passing day. Many facets of the classroom haven't changed much over the years, but the questions of what comprises an education and whether a classroom must be part of that education have never been so present.

Case in point: The University of Wisconsin's “Flexible Option,” set to debut this fall, will allow students to earn a bachelor's degree without ever setting foot in a traditional classroom. “It is a big new idea in a system like ours, and it is part of the way the ground is shifting under us in higher education,” Kevin Reilly, president of the University of Wisconsin System, told The Wall Street Journal.

Designed for nontraditional students, those in the program can literally test their way to a degree in nursing, diagnostic imaging, information science and technology, or a certificate in professional and technical communication. While online curricula is available, students can use what they learned in any previous coursework, through military training or on the job in attempting to pass the tests without accessing actual coursework.

The tests are designed to determine if the takers know what they're expected to know. In the education world, this concept is known as “demonstration of mastery.” University of Wisconsin faculty members are creating the tests. Students are free to use whatever resources they want to help them pass the tests, whether that's a university class or any number of free online courses.

In some ways, the program mirrors conversations happening in the K-12 sector. Is a diploma or degree about seat time and checking assignments, projects and internships off a list? Or is it about the acquisition of knowledge and the ability to know when and how to use that knowledge? College students have long had the ability to gain credit for college courses by passing College Level Examination Program tests. But those tests have focused largely on introductory level courses such as biology, algebra and history.

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