Author: David Oxenhandler, Vice President of EC-Council University
Being in a crowded place in cyberspace is safe – physically, mentally, and spiritually. In this day and age of the Corona-19 global pandemic, it may even keep us in the U.S. and the rest of the planet alive. With the need for social distancing, staying at home, lockdowns,and reducing personal human engagement to essential services and close family and friends, the world in 2020 has taken a sharp upturn into life online. Entire school systems, colleges, and universities have closed their campuses and sent students home. Dormitories, fraternities, and sororities, cafeterias, bars, clubs, restaurants, stadiums, gyms/rec centers, libraries, and classrooms areempty. Most people having gone home to finish the term online and at a distance in many cases.
Online learning or distance education began as an alternative delivery method initially embraced by those that were challenged in accessing traditionally delivered education. The non-traditional student, often an older working adult with a job and family, could simply not drop out of the workforce andenjoy the immersion into a fulltime college campus environment. The social interaction and engagement that underpinned campus learning was a powerful and beneficial component of the collegial and fraternal structures that supported the multi-year journey to a degree. The Socratic method and other forms of learning by being open to healthy debate and challenging of ideas in a competitive but safe place was a social path to intellectual growth with iteration empowered learning. Practice makes perfect. Critical thinking was woven into curriculums by providing a broad base of general education in the liberal arts and sciences, which formed the foundation of specialized majors and degrees in advanced disciplines. Fine-tuning analytic, communication, research,and leadership skills at every level of higher education in a place where opinion and speech was protected, defined the notion of academic freedom and discovery.
Trade schools, religious schools, language schools were built on a similar model of higher education of what I call “I-cubed”:
I3 = “immersion, interaction, iteration”
If you wanted to teach someone French, for instance, the best thing you could do was put them in an environment where they were immersed or surrounded by French language and culture – Paris, for instance. Then force them to interact with only French people. And do this over and over again in an iterative learning method that spirals their knowledge ever upward by practice, practice, practice. Masons learned to build great structures of stone in this way; religions created vast bodies of knowledge that were passed down from generation to generation in this way; languages stayed alive in this way.
Could online learning be where tradition meets tomorrow? Could the age-old tradition of learning that uses models developed in many cases over a 1000 years ago to serve traditional (younger) students in traditional (classroom and campus, worksite) environments be enabled to transform by virtue of the adoption of technology? This was the essential question of online learning. Could distance education serve non-traditional students in a non-traditional delivery method while maintaining traditional educational values?
This was the question that accreditors, governments, educators, and employers faced at the onset of online learning. There was fear that it might be a return of what some deemed as sub-par independent study methodssimilar to correspondence schools that had earlier been fueled by the advent of mail. So, strict guidelines were put in place that required scheduled substantive integration and participation between students and faculty for online college programs to qualify for funding under federal student financial aid in the United States. Some countries and employers flat out would not recognize online degreesfor any government funding or even as a qualification for jobs.
The divide between job skills or trade-oriented higher education and broader-based liberal arts and sciences, discovery, and research-based education saw a similar divide in its history and formation. This was viewed in the U.S. and many countries as the dividing line between universities and trade schools. Separate oversight and quality control accrediting agencies (regional for universities) and national for trade schools developed roughly along these lines in the U.S..Delivery methods caused further divide, first correspondence then online, spawned an accrediting agency that focused on the expertise needed by colleges to deliver education at a distance – The Distance Education and Training Council (DETC) today known as The Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC).
The lines between the different types of accrediting agencies and schools in higher education have often blurred over time. As an example, a medical school which we think of as a regionally accredited university graduate school is really a trade school – teaching very specific hands-on skills to practitioners. A graduate degree (masters/doctorates) granting a nationally accredited university is not a trade school. And delivery modality, online or on-ground, is just that and does not define the quality of educational outcomes. I3 – immersion, interaction, iteration does frame quality. While these methods and approaches may differ in practical application between a live classroom or campus and online environment, the fact that social engagement takes place in well-engineered programs under both modalities is no longer disputed.
The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) in a recent advisory letter to state officials in the U.S. in very straight forward language notes that in the revised regulations, the terms national and regional accreditors will be dropped. The DOE will only differentiate between the program and institutional accreditation agencies. Program accreditors review the quality of a specific degree or program areas such as nursing or engineering.Institutional accreditors operate at the umbrella level of the entire school’s strength and quality. All institutional accreditors and, therefore, their member schools are held to the same standards by the DOE. In fairness to students and the DOE who may need duplicate funding for education already attained due to transfer credit and recognition issues by there being bias based on geographic, the modality of delivery, or other issues that are not based on actual academic content is frowned upon.
This change in view of online learning from the regulatory level on down to schools and tofaculty and studentsthemselves has now hit a massive societal change as the result of responses needed to contain a global pandemic brought on by the COVID-19 virus. Regulations and accreditation approvals have been suspended or modified for this near-instant move by schools into online programs. Schools around the world are embracing online learning as a way to continue operations for people at a distance. This means that many students are learning in physical isolation at home. Many have lost the social engagement that live classes and campuses provided. As online universities have discovered, this isolation or independence should be overcome through engagement and interaction in their online learning communities. I3 – immersion, interaction, iterationworks online just as it does in traditional face to face learning to build inclusion and quality experiences and outcomes. So, in these difficult times it is important for all of us to realize that online engagement can help replace the face to face interactions that have been limited or lost. As a society, we must embrace our virtual world. It can safely replace the face to face contact that can accelerate virus transmission while keeping the world going. Flattening the curve and keeping us together even at a distance.
About EC-Council University
EC-Council University is dedicated to creating superior educational programs in the discipline of cybersecurity. The programs will equip graduates with the knowledge to assess the latest IT security risks and expert skills to handle them successfully. The university offers bachelor’s and master’s programs. The Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity (BSCS) gives required exposure, builds cybersecurity skills, and develops leadership abilities that help any candidate to grow as a cybersecurity professional. Master of Science in Cybersecurity (MSCS) makes you an expert in desired skills and helps you in gaining domain knowledge to stand ahead of the competition.
ECCU is accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC), which is a recognized accrediting agency by the US Department of Education and is also an acknowledged member of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
ECCU has industry practitioners as faculty members who also serve as mentors for the students when they aspire to get into cybersecurity. The iLabs facility from the university helps in gaining hands-on practice for students.