November 14, 2012
Massive open online courses, or MOOCs, have gained national attention as more students sign on to take free, Web-based classes from home. One of the pioneers of the movement was Coursera, a for-profit company founded by two Stanford professors last year. So far Coursera has offered all classes for free, but without college credit. That may soon change.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the American Council on Education -- an influential organization representing colleges and universities -- has plans to evaluate some of Coursera's courses next year to determine whether they meet the same academic standards and anti-cheating safeguards as traditional classroom-based classes. If Coursera's classes pass review, colleges could then decide whether to give students degree credit for completing them.
USA Today reported that MOOCs have become popular quickly. Top faculty in a number of disciplines from some of the world's elite colleges have signed on to teach the courses. Coursera alone has more than 200 courses, and other providers of MOOCs are gaining momentum, too. Molly Corbett Broad, president of ACE, says MOOCs could help traditional colleges serve more students, but remain to be tested.
"MOOCs are an intriguing, innovative new approach that holds much promise for engaging students across the country and around the world, as well as for helping colleges and universities broaden their reach," Corbett Broad explained to USA Today. "But as with any new approach, there are many questions about long-term potential, and ACE is eager to help answer them."
Coursera co-founder Andrew Ng told USA Today that the potential to transfer credit "is a significant step forward," but it's too early to know how evaluators or universities will respond. "This is a new thing for all of us," Ng said.
According to Slate, Coursera has always said that its courses are meant to complement, not replace, those from brick-and-mortar colleges. Now that the company is moving toward credit-bearing coursework, however, questions about Coursera's role in higher education have resurfaced. Coursera maintains that MOOCs offer a valuable service, especially for students who are struggling to pay for increasing tuition costs, or who do not have access to certain coursework through their current institutions.
"In recent years, the rising cost of higher education has had a devastating impact on students, many of whom struggle and often fail to complete their degrees," Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller said in a statement reprinted by Slate. "We hope that by providing top-quality courses that have the potential of academic credit, we can allow more students to enter college with some credit already accrued, and exit college on time, on budget and with a complete degree in hand."
The Los Angeles Times noted that ACE also plans to evaluate courses offered by Coursera's rival, EdX, which is a smaller, nonprofit consortium that partners with institutions such as Harvard, MIT and UC Berkeley.
Compiled by Aimee Hosler
"College credit for online courses gains momentum," usatoday.com, November 13, 2012, Mary Beth Marklein
"Coursera's Big Next Step: Online College Courses for Credit, for a Fee," slate.com, November 13, 2012, Will Oremus
"Online courses to be reviewed for possible degree credits," latimesblogs.latimes.com, November 13, 2012, Larry Gordon