Remember the hopeful statement “Timing is everything?” That assertion is likely going to prove to be quite apropos to the events that have occurred in higher education over the last two weeks. Suddenly, due to circumstances beyond higher education’s control (that is, COVID-19 Pandemic), we are all now delivering almost every undergraduate and graduate course completely through the online or distance learning modality.

In the meantime, the US Secretary of Education’s expert team started more than a year ago drafting new rules to govern distance learning for higher education students that were outlined April 1, 2020. Reportedly, the new rules propose the reduction of barriers to innovation and support higher education’s capacity to teach remotely while retaining eligibility for federal student aid.

Many of us are concluding that the timing IS right to embrace innovation in higher education, especially in the delivery of instruction. Following is a chart that illustrates some of the suggested innovations for distance learning that have been discussed and the proposed regulatory actions from the US Department of Education associated with these innovations.

Suggested Innovations Proposed Regulatory Actions
1. Remove “seat time” requirements and award course credit based on content mastery 1. Amend definitions of “clock hour” and “credit hour” to provide flexibility that emphasizes demonstration of learning
2. Competency-based education2. Amend definitions of “distance education” and “correspondence course” to account for changes in technology
3. Recognize “asynchronous” engagement, in which students may submit work and faculty may provide feedback online at different times.3. Clarify with new definitions the requirements of regular and substantive interaction between students and instructors for a course to be determined to be a distance education course, not a correspondence course
4. Innovation that includes standards for quality, access and outcomes. 4. Maintain safeguards to limit the risks to students and taxpayers

If you agree that now is the time for revised rulemaking to reduce barriers to innovation, let your voice be heard!  The draft regulation is available for public comment through May 4. Following the comment period, the Department will publish a final regulation prior to Nov. 1, 2020.

Dr. Mary Jane Pearson is the Chief Academic Advisor for HotChalk. One of her notable accomplishments is the design of the highly successful model of support and mentoring for online higher education faculty, which has resulted in over 90% retention rate for online faculty, and an overall average of 4.5/5 faculty rating from student end-of-course evaluations. Dr. Pearson’s unique credentials as a teacher educator include chairing the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CCTC), the largest educator licensing agency in the U.S., during which she co-authored the research on California’s beginning teacher support that has become the worldwide standard for the induction, mentoring and support of new teachers. In addition, Dr. Pearson was appointed by the U.S. President to serve as the Regional Representative for the U.S. Department of Education. In recognition of her service to education, Dr. Pearson was named California Teacher Educator of the Year. Dr. Pearson earned her PhD from the University of Kansas.

Dr. Gail Kirby is the Online Instructional Mentor for HotChalk and is a published subject matter expert in online higher education faculty support & mentoring. In addition, she is an Associate Professor of Special Education at Western Kentucky University. Dr. Kirby has 33 years of experience teaching P-12; over 25 years in higher education, including community college, and both private and public college and university settings. She earned her EdD from the University of San Francisco.