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Topic: [ncsm-members] MIT: Offers Certificates to Outside Students In Its Online Courses
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Jerry P. Becker

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Registered: 12/3/04
[ncsm-members] MIT: Offers Certificates to Outside Students In Its Online Courses
Posted: Jan 23, 2012 7:37 PM
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From The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 6, 2012, p. A18. See
MIT Will Offer Certificates to Outside Students Who Take Its Online Courses

By Marc Parry

Millions of learners have enjoyed the free lecture videos and other
course materials published online through the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology's OpenCourseWare project. Now MIT plans to release a
fresh batch of open online courses-and, for the first time, to offer
certificates to outside students who complete them.

The credentials are part of a new, interactive e-learning venture,
tentatively called MITx, that is expected to host "a virtual
community of millions of learners around the world," the institute
will announce on Monday.

Here's how it will work: MITx will give anyone free access to an
online-course platform. Users will include students on the MIT
campus, but also external learners like high-school seniors and
engineering majors at other colleges. They'll watch videos, answer
questions, practice exercises, visit online labs, and take quizzes
and tests. They'll also connect with others working on the material.

The first course will begin around the spring of 2012. MIT has not
yet announced its subject, but the goal is to build a portfolio of
high-demand courses-the kind that draw more than 200 people to
lecture halls on the campus, in Cambridge, Mass. MIT is investing
"millions of dollars" in the project, said L. Rafael Reif, the
provost, and the plan is to solicit more from donors and foundations.

Ten years ago, MIT galvanized the open-education movement by giving
away free learning materials from 2,100 courses. But some
universities are moving beyond publishing online syllabi and simple
videos. They now provide virtual tutors and automated feedback
through interactive projects like the Open Learning Initiative at
Carnegie Mellon University and the free online computer-science
courses at Stanford University. MIT's new venture is a step in that

SIDEBAR: If Stanford's experience is any indication, the potential
pool of participants could be vast. Back in November, roughly 94,000
students enrolled in Andrew Ng's open course on machine learning

MIT's project could also help answer a big question facing open
education: How do you sustain projects whose content is free?

Although access to MITx courses will carry no cost, the institute
plans to charge a "modest" fee for certificates that indicate a
learner has mastered the content. It's unclear exactly how the
assessment will work.

What is clear is that any credentials "would not be issued under the
name MIT," according to an MITx fact sheet. "Rather, MIT plans to
create a not-for-profit body within the institute that will offer
certification for online learners of MIT course work," the sheet
says. "That body will carry a distinct name to avoid confusion."

Mr. Reif stressed that the open-learning experiment "is not an easier
version of MIT."

SIDEBAR: "For them to earn a credential, they have to demonstrate
mastery of the subject," he said, "just like an MIT student does."

A 3-Tiered Ecosystem

Monday's announcement marks a shift for MIT. The institute does not
offer a fully online education for conventional credits. And when the
OpenCourseWare idea emerged, the thinking was to avoid credit-bearing
courses so as not to "dilute the MIT brand," according to one
official quoted in Unlocking the Gates, a book about open learning by
Taylor Walsh of Ithaka S+R, a nonprofit group that promotes the use
of technology in higher education.

But the new venture will apparently create a three-tiered ecosystem,
with traditional MIT degrees, for residential students; cheaper MITx
certificates, and free OpenCourseWare materials, said Roger C.
Schonfeld, Ithaka's director of research.

"It seems like an effort to begin to expand the breadth of
individuals who can claim an educational association with MIT," he

The project aims to "lower the existing barriers between residential
campuses and millions of learners around the world," MIT says. But
how much will outside individuals get to interact with MIT
professors? That's unclear.

One way to promote such contact will be software that handles many
questions, said Anant Agarwal, director of MIT's Computer Science and
Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.

"Through voting and other mechanisms, you can create a funnel of
requests so that the requests that come off the funnel at the very
top can actually be answered by MIT professors and MIT TA's," he
said. "A large number of questions at the lower parts of the funnel
can actually be answered by other learners who may be slightly ahead."

MIT faculty members have also developed technology that can
automatically grade essays. Other technologies that could come into
play here include automatic transcription, online tutors, and
crowdsourced grading.

The core idea of OpenCourseWare-free online content-spread far beyond
MIT. The institute hopes this project will also catch on elsewhere.
To help make that happen, it will release the MITx open-learning
software at no charge, so other educational institutions can adopt it.
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244

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