From The Chronicle of Higher Education, Friday, November 23,
What are MOOC's? MOOC's are classes that are taught online
to large numbers of students, with minimal involvement by professors.
Typically, students watch short video lectures and complete
assignments that are graded either by machines or by other students.
That way a lone professor can support a class with hundreds of
thousands of participants.
American Council on Education May Recommend Some Coursera
Offerings for College Credit
By Jeffrey R. Young
The American Council on Education has agreed to review a handful of
free online courses offered by elite universities and may recommend
that other colleges grant credit for them.
The move could lead to a world in which many students graduate from
traditional colleges faster by taking self-guided courses on the side,
taught free by professors from Stanford University, the University of
Michigan at Ann Arbor, and other well-known colleges.
In what leaders describe as a pilot project, the group will consider
five to 10 massive open online courses, or MOOC's, offered through
Coursera for possible inclusion in the council's College Credit
Recommendation Service. That service has been around since the 1970s
and focuses on certifying training courses, offered outside of
traditional colleges, for which students might want college credit.
McDonald's Hamburger University, for example, is among the hundreds of
institutions with courses certified through ACE Credit, as the service
Last year, a provider of low-cost online courses called StraighterLine
became one of the first online institutions to win inclusion in the
ACE also announced on Tuesday that it will set up a Presidential
Innovation Lab that will bring together college leaders to discuss the
potential of MOOC's and new business models for higher education. The
lab is supported by an $895,453 grant from the Bill & Melinda
Gates Foundation, as part of about $3-million in new MOOC-related
grants announced Tuesday.
The review process by the council will be "similar to the
way regional accreditation works," said Molly Corbett Broad,
president of ACE. Professors will look at the content, teaching
methods, "evidence of student engagement," and other
elements of MOOC's to see if they appear equivalent to that taught by
an accredited college, she added.
To pass the council's test, Coursera will make a few changes in the
courses for which it seeks certification. For instance, ACE requires
an "authentication of identity," said Ms. Broad, meaning
that Coursera must have some kind of proctored examination or other
way to prove that students are who they say they are.
For the courses in the pilot project, Coursera will form partnerships
with online proctoring companies that use Webcams and special software
to monitor tests remotely, said Daphne Koller, co-founder of Coursera.
Students hold up their ID's to a Webcam during an appointed exam time,
and an employee from the proctoring company checks them to verify
identity, and then watches students take the test to make sure they
Meanwhile, the proctoring company uses software to monitor the
students' activity to make sure they aren't just Googling the answers.
Ms. Koller expects the cost of the proctoring to be less than $30 per
The remote-proctoring strategy differs from an identity-verification
system used by other providers of MOOC's, including edX, a nonprofit
started by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, and Udacity, a start-up company competing with Coursera.
Both of those organizations say they will use a series of testing
centers run by Pearson, which will require students to travel to a
test center to take final exams in person, if they want a certificate
'Next Generation of AP Courses'
Ms. Koller stressed that the new arrangement is merely a pilot
project, and that the courses have to pass muster before they win
admission to ACE Credit.
"I don't want people to say, 'Can I get credit for my MOOC
tomorrow?'" she said. "The answer is No. We haven't even
started assessing these MOOC's."
Even if ACE recommends the courses, it is up to individual colleges to
decide whether to grant transfer credit for them. So the next question
becomes, Will colleges welcome such transfers?
Tristan Denley, provost at Austin Peay State University, outside of
Nashville, said that if MOOC's proved an equivalent replacement for
traditional courses, he would expect his institution to embrace
"It is already the case that about half of the graduates from
Austin Peay State University did not begin with us. They bring
transfer credit," he said. "So we are not averse in any way
to transfer credit-this is just another source of that."
Josh Jarrett, deputy director for postsecondary success at the Gates
foundation, said that "MOOC's may be the next generation of AP
courses." Many students already arrive at campuses with credit
they earn by passing Advanced Placement tests in high school, and
MOOC's may simply prove another way for students to get a jump on
Many of the grants by the Gates foundation concerning MOOC's are
focused on the use of free open courses as a supplement to traditional
courses, rather than a replacement for them.
For instance, another Gates-foundation grant announced Tuesday, for
$1,440,900, will support researchers from Ithaka S+R, a group that
speeds development of information technologies for higher education,
to study the effectiveness of MOOC's used in a "flipped
classroom" model. In that model, students at traditional campuses
watch lecture videos for homework and use class time for discussion
rather than lecture.
In that way, Mr. Jarrett said, MOOC's may turn out to be a high-tech
replacement for a textbook.
"We think in the short term the blended, flip-the-classroom model
is going to be the one that's most effective for first-generation,
low-income students, the kind of students that we work for," he
The Gates foundation also announced Tuesday the names of nine
institutions that will receive grants to develop remedial and
introductory classes. Those institutions include Cuyahoga Community
College Foundation, Wake Technical Community College, and Ohio State
The foundation also announced a grant of $269,000 to the Association
of Public and Land-grant Universities to consider a consortium of
colleges that would jointly build MOOC's and other digital course
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Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
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Mail Code 4610
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Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
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