US: Marks from online courses being rejected

"No, we do not accept online coursework," is appearing on more US websites and in college catalogues. Some schools of pharmacy, medicine and nursing are among the first excluding transfer credit for online laboratory courses.

Several universities post messages now to warn those who have taken online courses that their course work will not be accepted in their applications. However, many universities that offer online courses do not state their courses will not be accepted for those applying to transfer universities or further their studies.

o The University of California system, in a regulation established two years ago, explains some of the current rationale: "Online lab science courses will not be approved unless they include a supervised wet lab component. Since UC has not seen computer software that adequately replicates the laboratory experience, computer simulated labs and lab kits will not be acceptable. UC faculty considers the experimentation process a critical component of any laboratory science course because it brings the scientific process to life. Although online labs have been created by several online providers, UC faculty is not convinced that they adequately replicate the wet lab experience...."

o The University of Colorado Denver School of Pharmacy states: "We do not accept any pre-pharmacy math, science or public speaking courses taken online."

o The University of Southern California School of Pharmacy website declares: "We accept distance-learning or online coursework for non-math and non-science pre-pharmacy courses, as long as they are on the Course Equivalency list. We do not accept online classes for math and science pre-pharmacy courses."

o University of Wisconsin Pharmacy School concurs: "All prerequisite science courses must be taken in a classroom setting."

o Texas Tech University School of Allied Health Sciences Physicians Assistant programme concludes: "Additionally, online science courses will not be accepted."

While questioning online science labs is obvious, similar concerns have appeared for performance classes that require the presence of a teacher to immediately demonstrate and correct techniques.

Again, the University of California policy details its concerns: "Online visual and performing arts courses will not be approved because it is difficult for students taking online courses to experience the required performance component of performance arts courses and/or replicate the expected portfolio component of visual arts courses. UC faculty believes that performance is a necessary component of any performance arts course. Whether it is a course in band, choir, drama, dance, or painting/drawing the immediate feedback and coaching of an instructor (eg, adjusting the toe point of a dancer, correcting the musical intonation of a student musician, advising greater voice projection for a student actor, or demonstrating correct technique for a student artist) is a critical and necessary component of any course."
On some campuses, a tension exists between administrators who want to compete with the online for-profit schools and their faculty who appear far less enamoured.

A major survey of public universities and colleges, "The Paradox of Faculty Voices: Views and experiences with online learning," released in August 2009 by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, found 70% of faculty members believe online courses to be either inferior or somewhat inferior in learning outcomes when compared with face-to-face instruction. Even narrowing to just those faculty members who teach online, nearly half gave it an inferior or somewhat inferior ranking.

The fact that more professional and graduate programmes will not accept online courses or online degrees provides young students with a dilemma. Without up-front labelling, students invest time and money in coursework or a degree that does not gain them access to the profession or next level of study.

The growing number of 'no-online-courses' and 'no-online-degree' statements in catalogues, primarily in the sciences and performing arts, may be the tip of the iceberg as more faculty are confronted by truth-in-labelling.

Margit Schatman, President of Educational Credential Evaluators, Inc., the premier company used by universities for evaluation of international students' transcripts, says that transcripts typically do not distinguish if the course is face-to-face or online.

She says that while there are specific concerns by universities about the experiences provided in clinical courses - whether courses graded Pass/Fail set the Pass at a minimum of 'C' or 'D', and whether the institution is accredited by a legitimate accreditor in that region - universities have not yet made online credit a major issue.

For the university student, both resident and international, who is contemplating online coursework with the intention of pursuing advanced study afterwards, they may want first to check to be sure that the ultimate graduate programmes or credentials sought will accept the online coursework or degree.

*John Richard Schrock teaches at Empora State University in Kansas.