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U Wisconsin Pilots Online Flex Option, 100 Students Could Earn Free Credits

The University of Wisconsin System is experimenting with a new "flex" program that allows non-traditional students to obtain course credits through massive open online courses (MOOCs), online classes, and assessment. The first 100 students to participate in a pilot program may receive those credits free. A major component of the initiative is to encourage progress toward a degree based on assessments of competency in a subject area, not seat time in a classroom. That competency could come from work experience, free online courses, and other experiences.

The Flexible Option, announced in the fall by U Wisconsin System President Kevin Reilly and the U Wisconsin Extension program, will launch with two three-credit courses--college algebra and elementary statistics. The program also includes three non-credit certificate classes in business statistics, business math, and personal finance.

Once enrolled in the pilot, the students work at their own pace to proceed through each course module. They're encouraged to use MOOCs and other free educational resources. When they feel prepared, the students demonstrate their competency through online assessments. Assessments will be handled under the supervision of an online proctor through ProctorU.

According to the university, students who show mastery can finish in as little as two weeks. All students in the pilot have until June 30, 2013 to complete the program.

The university said it is hoping that people seeking to complete a degree will consider the flex program "as a first step." "This is an opportunity to get credit for what you know or what you are able to learn on your own," said Extension Dean David Schejbal.

In the fall, U Wisconsin-Milwaukee will offer a number of flexible option programs:

  • The College of Nursing will offer both a bachelor's degree and a master's degree option for registered nurses seeking higher credentials;
  • The College of Health Sciences will develop a degree completion program in diagnostic imaging targeted toward bachelor's degree-attainment for certified diagnostic imaging professionals; and
  • The School of Information Studies will offer a bachelor of science in information science and technology.

The university system and specific institutions will introduce a number of general education and liberal arts courses in the flex format, including biology, chemistry, mathematics, engineering, business, English, Spanish, communications, art history, and geography.

Additional programs across the system are under development and expected to be available in 2014.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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