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WCET Features Dr. Amy Smith’s Insights and Research Analysis into Academic Rigor

How we deliver education has been forever changed by the pandemic-driven rush to online learning.
Issue Brief_Rigor

Prior to March 2020, only about half of students took at least one class online, but then online learning became a necessity for all, practically overnight. Now, learners have new expectations and desires around how higher education is delivered and accessed, with six in ten people saying they prefer fully online or hybrid education, even if the pandemic was not a factor.

However, there is also a risk amid this innovation that the quality of higher education could be diluted if we don’t establish standards to ensure that the delivery of virtual learning—both by traditional institutions and new providers—can meet learners’ needs. So, how do we begin to define what makes a course rigorous?

Academic rigor is widely considered to be an essential component of the quality of higher education, but research shows that faculty and students define rigor quite differently. To help bridge the gap between the faculty and student perspectives, Dr. Amy Smith, StraighterLine's Chief Learning Officer, reviewed the existing research. The resulting issue brief, Rigor and College Credit, is intended to provide a framework for a larger discussion:

  • How do we define academic rigor and why is this conversation urgently needed?
  • What is the role of rigor in learning, and ultimately, career and life outcomes?
  • How do we develop a more informed understanding of academic rigor and its connection to outcomes, especially as we look to build new models that focus on what today’s learners really know and can do, rather than the time they spend on their education?
  • How do we ensure rigor in online learning?
  • What is the role of student support in rigor?

WCET recently featured on its Frontiers Blog Dr. Smith’s insights into her academic rigor research analysis, detailed in her article, "How Our Understanding of Academic Rigor Impacts Online Learning".