There is good news for those who are looking for a more affordable college education. The American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendaton Service, also known as ACE CREDIT, has recommended that college credit be granted for five courses offered by Coursera, an educational company and provider of massive open online courses (MOOCs).
Founded by computer science professors Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller, Coursera has partnered with universities such as Brown, Stanford, and Princeton to offer more than 200 university courses online at no cost to the student. Each course is designed to be engaging, interactive, and even fun.
From game theory and medicine to startup engineering and songwriting, Coursera provides opportunities for anyone with a computer and an internet connection to learn about their interests from the best instructors at some of the world’s top universities.
A first-rate post-secondary education must be accessible, affordable, and of a superior quality. Coursera and other MOOC providers such as Udacity and edX have effortlessely exceeded these requirements. Indeed, there is nothing more accessible than open enrollment, nothing more affordable than free tuition, and nothing more superior than instructors who are the leading experts in their fields.
Yet until now there remained a last hurdle – legitimacy. In order for a university education to be worth the time invested into it, it has to be recognized by other institutions. Now, with ACE’s recent recommendation, it appears that Coursera and its like-minded contemporaries have begun to clear this final hurdle. It is now possible to not just take courses for the love of learning, but to earn university credit while doing so.
While the news is exciting, the ACE recommendation represents a small step that opens doors. It remains to be seen whether individual universities will close those doors or open them wide. Of the more than 2,000 post-secondary institutions which will consider ACE’s recommendations, only some will ultimately adopt them. Each university will have to decide which recommended courses will be granted prerequisite or undergraduate credit for their degree programs.
So what are the first courses from Coursera to attain credit-legitimacy? Of the five, there are three math courses including Pre-Calculus, Algebra, and Calculus: Single Variable. The first two are offered by the University of California, Irvine, while the latter is offered by the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to those courses, credit is also recommended for two courses from Duke University, namely Introduction to Genetics and Evolution, and Bioelectricity: A Quantitative Approach.
A student who wishes to earn credit for any of these courses must sign up for the course and put in the work. Upon completion of the course, the student must then take a proctored final exam. To this end Coursera is trying to leverage webcam technology to facilitate online proctoring. The cost of administering the exam will be offset by a fee assessed to the student. After passing the exam, the student can apply for a transcript which can then be presented to any university for credit consideration.
The implications for credit-bearing MOOCs are significant and far-reaching. As greater numbers of courses are recommended for credit, what does that mean for traditional universities? Why would a student pay thousands of dollars to sit in front of a professor on campus, when they can pay nothing to sit at home in front of the same professor – and get university credit to boot?
It is only a matter of time before these questions need to be answered, and post-secondary institutions need to determine how to compete against, or cooperate with, massive open online course delivery in the 21st century. Until then, MOOCs are alive and well and gaining increasing popularity.