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Added by Heather Idoni

Monday, January 30, 2012
Vol. 13 No. 3, January 30, 2012, ISSN: 1536-2035
(c) 2012, Heather Idoni - www.FamilyClassroom.net

Welcome to The Homeschooler's Notebook!

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Notes from Heather
-- Free Higher Educaton for All
Winning Website
-- MoneySkill.org
Helpful Tip
-- Value of Theatre Education
Reader Question
-- Grading for Learning Disabled
Additional Notes
-- Newsletter Archives
-- Sponsorship Information
-- Reprint Information
-- Subscriber Information

Notes from Heather

Virtually Free College vs. the Traditional (and Expensive) Status Quo
  by Heather Idoni


The Dinosaur

The idea of colleges and universities, as institutions of necessity, is going the way of the dinosaur. What started as a slow revolution, with roots in homeschooling and self-education, is gaining momentum.

What began with whisperings like, "You can't get a job with a 4-year degree anymore -- now you need a masters" -- is turning into an overall rejection of the idea that anyone actually needs a general studies degree from a traditional university experience to go forward in life.

Combine that with the high cost of entry into an institutional college or university -- not just in the outflow of hard-earned cash, but the possibility for many of incurring years of college debt (and the stress that comes with being a debtor) and it is no wonder the time has come for forward-thinking entrepreneurs, multi-million dollar companies and magnanimous foundations -- even some universities themselves -- to use their influence to effect HUGE changes in what-is-and-is-not acceptable on a job resume as far as education is concerned.

The bricks in the Ivy league buildings are beginning -- just beginning -- to crumble.

A Short History of Online Education

Fake diploma mills, "fast" diplomas and concerns about sub-quality teaching, just to name a few, have fixed the idea of higher education outside of university walls as a cheap and inadequate substitute for "real" education over the few years the internet has been in existence. Distance education had its beginnings in correspondence education, which began in Europe in the mid-nineteenth century. In the same way that electronic mail had its roots in mailed paper letters, correspondence education made the natural transition to the internet. But for every legitimate online education opportunity, there are probably at least 10 scams that pop up. Fake and fast diplomas have always been around, but it is particularly this stigma that has put a blemish on the idea that an online education could ever be equal to -- even superior to -- an on-campus experience.

But as more and more revered universities have entered on the online education scene, respect for these options is gaining.

A Very Short History of Open Course Education

I'm sure by now you've heard the great news about universities offering their courses free online. In fact, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology just celebrated their first 10 years of publishing educational materials from all of its courses freely and openly on the Internet. They have shared over 2000 courses with an estimated 100 million students all over the world. And they are just getting started! They are also not alone. As of this writing, there are over 250 institutions worldwide that have put an estimated 15,000 courses online in what has become known as the open-courseware (OCW) movement, including the University of California Berkeley, Tufts University and the University of Michigan.

A Paradigm Shift to Alternative "Credentials" vs. University Degrees

This is an excerpt from a recent Washington Post article:

"An emerging group of entrepreneurs with influential backing is seeking to lower the cost of higher education from as much as tens of thousands of dollars a year to nearly nothing.

These new arrivals are harnessing the Internet to offer online courses, which isn't new. But their classes are free, or almost free. Most traditional universities have refused to award academic credit for such online studies.

Now the start-ups are discovering a way around that monopoly, by inventing credentials that 'graduates' can take directly to employers instead of university degrees."

These entrepreneurs are making the most of what has been coined "disruptive innovation". According to Wikipedia, a disruptive innovation (or disruptive technology) is an innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually goes on to disrupt an existing market and value network (over a few years or decades), displacing an earlier technology. It is used to describe innovations that improve a product or service in ways the market does not expect, typically first by designing for a different set of consumers in the new market, and then later by lowering prices in the existing market.

Remember when the Firefox browser came on the scene? The same folks are backing one of the start-ups, Peer-to-Peer University (P2PU). Other innovative entreprenurial companies are following suit.

Not all disruptive innovations have the teeth to take a bite out of the dinosaurs. After 100 years, gas-powered automobiles have yet to give way to better technologies entirely. Perhaps this is because electric cars are still more expensive. But the cost of a college education has risen more than 6 percentage points OVER the inflation rate annually in recent years, so perhaps this dinosaur's time has come.


"The Pollyanna version of college is that you're learning and discussing things with your professors. The reality is that you have 450 kids in an auditorium listening to a teaching assistant." -- Debbie Arthur, Kingsport, TN


The status quo is being threatened. In this case, it is general-education coursework offered in vast lecture halls or in faceless online sessions to students who have paid many thousands of dollars just for the privilege to be present.

One way universities protect themselves from students who have taken courses online (or even at reputable community colleges) is to withhold academic credits. Denial of credits means that a student who is expecting a degree from a conventional university now must retake certain courses -- and pay for them -- possibly for the second time.

So why continue to support the monopoly by allowing the dinosaur to punish those who don't submit to their rules?

Is there another way to satisfy a potential employer that you have what it takes without a traditional university stamp of approval?

In answer to these questions, some free-content providers are devising new types of credentials to replace credits and degrees.

Saylor.org, one of many companies re-packaging and synergizing portions of the vast OCW available, is offering students an exciting alternative to the traditional piece of paper provided by universities. They are developing an "electronic portfolio" -- much more detailed than a college transcript -- that each student can show to a potential employer.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is even running a $2 million competition to design digital "badges" that can be used (in place of university degrees) to prove experience and knowledge to potential employers.

It is just a beginning, but the more employers see and get accustomed to this alternative credentialing, the more they will come to accept it as the new status quo. This will effectively cut out the university as an exclusive gate keeper.

The phenomenon is much like the homeschooling movement -- and the public and private university institutions are much like the public school monopoly when alternatives first came on the horizon. In that case it was private education (at first), and then charter schools and home education becoming the threats. The dinosaur of traditonal, on-campus university education will keep crying that it is the only option, much like the public schools have cried.

So it is time to stop asking the question, "How will my child get into college?" -- and start asking the question, "Why would my child want to go in the first place?"

I believe it is time to stop depending on institutions to tell us when our children are "educated" and also time to stop spending a life savings to purchase their approval.

If you are as intrigued as I am, you can read the full article here:

Online course startups offer virtually free college - The Washington Post

And here is another interesting article...

-- Heather


Your feedback is always welcome -- just send your email to heather(at)familyclassroom.net.


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Winning Website


"MoneySKILL is a free online reality based personal finance course for young adults developed by the AFSA Education Foundation. This interactive curriculum is aimed at the millions of high school and college students who graduate each year without a basic understanding of money management fundamentals.

The course is designed to be used as all or part of a grade for courses in economics, math, social studies or where personal finance are taught. Students experience the interactive curriculum as both written text and audio narration. In addition, frequent quizzes test their grasp of each and every concept. The 36-module curriculum, with pre-tests and post-tests, covers the content areas of income, expenses, assets, liabilities and risk management.

A life simulation module asks students to project their own financial life expectancies in areas such as employment, housing, transportation, education, marriage, family and retirement. The life simulation allows students to incorporate the MoneySKILL personal finance concepts into their everyday lives, thus providing them with knowledge and skills that will last a lifetime."

Helpful Tips

The Value of Theater Education

"Over the last 20+ years I have received a number of questions regarding the value of theater and theater education. Here is an article (be sure to read past the 'sound bite' graphics) that may shed some light on the value of the arts and theater in particular.


I would also add to the positives listed in the article... the ability to take constructive criticism, the ability to work intuitively as a team member, and the ability to come up with a 'plan B' at a moments notice."

-- Laura S. in Michigan, 6 Stools & a Folding Chair Youth Theater Group


"Drama majors know how to meet deadlines like nobody's business -- the curtain goes up, no matter what! Drama majors learn how to think creatively and put that thinking into practical practice. Drama majors have no choice but to learn how to work collaboratively -- it takes a lot of human beings working together to stage a play. And Drama majors leave the university capable in an skill identified as most people's number one fear -- they are able to stand on their feet and speak effectively in front of a group of people." -- Gail Beach, Catholic University

Last Issue's Reader Question

High School Grading for Learning Disabled Son

"I hesitate to ask this since it is possible that those who would know have left off reading homeschool materials, but here goes.

"I am an experienced homeschooler who has graduated one child already and I made his transcripts, course descriptions, etc. He did a few courses at the local state college as dual enrollment his senior year, did very well on his SAT and has just completed his first semester at college, scoring a 4.0. So, while we used a huge variety of curriculum and learning experiences all the way through, when it came to high school I found it easy to put a 'grade' on his transcript.

What I am struggling with is grading a high schooler who has many learning disabilities but has enough intelligence that I believe with resource help he could make it through college. Every traditional type curriculum course we try he scores poorly on the tests. His receptive abilities in information have always been much better than his output. Should I grade on effort, attitude, time put in, or should I weight it toward the D's and very low C's which is what his output reflects on any kind of testing (he has difficulty speaking, writing, moving). I am really struggling with this. Thanks in advance for any help from people who have been through this before." -- Carol

Our Readers' Replies

"My first thought was, does your son want to go to college? If he doesn't, then the answer is a little different. College will not grade him for attitude and effort, so much, as for output, unfortunately. You may be able to help him increase his chances of succeeding in college, or at least being accepted if he is involved in other, non-book learning.

One recommendation is to be actively involved in something like 4-H which encourages leadership and participation and has a very good method of tracking such. A 4-H record book makes a good high-school transcript because it shows how well-rounded a person is. We are blessed with a wonderful homeschool 4-H group, but our curriculum is the same as non-homeschool 4-H groups... and it is not all about showing animals at the fair, as many think. It is much, much broader.

If he is not interested in college, I wouldn't push it. Are there things he likes to do, or study, or make? Find what interests him and see if he can be apprenticed to a local business which shares your values and where he can learn things that interest him and will help him grow. God bless you with wisdom as you move forward with your dear child!" -- Melody B.


"You do not have to test formally. You may find through your conversations that he knows the material. You can base your grades on these 'oral exams'. I would recommend, if he is going to go to college or plans to take the SAT or ACT, you get him some professional help on test taking. Preferably, find a tutor that helps with whichever learning disability he has." -- T.E.

New Reader Question

Physical Education - Help with Getting the Kids Outside

"We have tried the gym classes locally and my kids do not enjoy them. We have done 3 different classes, different ways, etc. Just wondering what is a good approach when you have very opinionated kids who don't want to be told what to do! :)

How do you get them to get exercise and what age is old enough to require this? My oldest is 8 and often has trouble getting to sleep at night when he doesn't get enough exercise during the day.

I'd love to have my kids outside riding bikes, etc., but they get very bored with this. We live in a neighborhood that is generally empty during the day. There is NO one around. We have a 1 acre plot with a large mowed field behind us that we can use, but is generally swampy during these winter/spring months. I know playing with them works to an extent, but usually it is a tug of war just to get them all dressed and outside. Plus I am about 6 months pregnant, so I can't get around fast anyway. We have a mini trampoline in the house, but I can't 'make' them go on it. Just takes all the fun away, I guess!

Any ideas?

My boys are 8, 5 and 18 months... and I have a 3 year old daughter. My oldest is a book-kid, so getting him outside at all is a challenge in itself, let alone when it is 30 degrees out!" -- Jennifer, HomeschoolingBOYS group member


Do you have some suggestions or ideas for Jennifer?
Please send your email to: hn-answers@familyclassroom.net

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