2012-11-13

Co.Exist

You Can Now Earn Real College Credit From Online Education Provider Coursera

Free courses from 33 top global universities + an online exam from a third party + a small fee = a radically cheap alternative to college education for millions of students.

This morning, Coursera, the "massively open online course" or MOOC platform founded by two Stanford professors, announced that they’d be partnering with ACE, the American Council on Education, to offer a path to college credit for select courses.

Coursera currently offers over 200 free courses consisting of video, multiple choice tests, and exercises graded by computer, and in some courses peer-graded papers, combined with social features like forums. About 1.6 million people have signed up to take a Coursera course; along with its competitors Udacity and edX, Coursera’s MOOCs are roiling the world of higher ed with their potential for disruption.

This announcement takes the disruption one step further. The venture-funded company licenses the content from 33 top global universities including Stanford, Penn, Brown, Berkeley, Princeton, and more; writing about the the company last fall, these university presidents were quick to establish that they wouldn’t be awarding credit for offerings on Coursera lest they compete with their own business model.

However, ACE, has been independently certifying courses for college credit since 1974, charging nominal fees ($40 for a transcript). They award college credit for Microsoft software certifications, for example. Starting early next year, anyone who successfully completes one of the selected Coursera courses will have the chance to take a proctored exam over the web from ACE, pay a small fee, and earn credit that could be accepted at up to 2,000 universities nationwide.

The move comes in the midst of a struggle in the ed-tech movement over business models and openness. The issue is this: beginning with MIT’s Open CourseWare in 2001, the world’s greatest public and nonprofit universities started offering access to some of their professors’ lectures, notes, and other materials online for free. The stuff was under Creative Commons license, meaning anyone could use it or re-use it as they saw fit; but the material--45-minute, amateur-recorded lectures, years-old problem sets--often just sat there, as hard to find and underutilized as books moldering in the library stacks. That changed last January when Stanford’s open online AI course, based on short, snappy videos and quizzes, went viral, with over 200,000 signups. Enter the venture capitalists. That same educational material, funded by taxpayer money and private philanthropy, that used to be available to anyone for free is now being served on a platform that makes it easier to use, but places restrictions on its reuse and may have fees associated with it in the future. Now MOOCs may be very, very popular, but they’re not really open anymore.

A similar kerfuffle was raised a couple of weeks ago when Flat World Knowledge, a publisher of Creative Commons-licensed textbooks, announced that they would no longer offer free online access to their materials; David Wiley, one of the originators of open content licensing and the "openness advisor" to Flat World Knowledge, was caught off guard by the decision.

Bloggers coming out of the open content world have accordingly been raising concerns about everything from the fine print of Coursera’s licensing agreements to the pedagogical soundness of multiple choice quizzes and peer grading to the term MOOC itself. MOOCs were pioneered, and the term coined, seven or eight years ago by ed-tech figures like George Siemens and Stephen Downes who were consciously committed to free and open-source content and software, and a new wiki-style of learning enabled by the web where everyone teaches everyone else, dubbed "connectivism"; the corporate MOOC is not only much bigger but far more conventional and commercial. Is openness dead, or will it come back to fight another round?

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3 Comments

  • Ingeborg Rodarte

    dump those MOOC courses problems , one solution for this is just reading educational textbooks where students learn without even bothered by the financial concerns, visit bookboon.com for more details.

  • jmco

    People still have no idea about the many problems with these MOOC courses…The number of students per class is massive. In the tens of thousands. Students are all over the planet. There is no filter to who gets in - so you could be placed on a team project in a class with a very young person or novice in the subject. I had an assigned partner who felt taking the weekend off was just they way it was (the project was assigned Thursday and due Tuesday - we had to work the weekend). She was very young and from France. So work ethic varies greatly. I was in the U.S, middle aged, and knew the subject fairly well. (I was taking it as a refresher and to get updated on new tech in it). Other partners were in completely different time zones which meant that a one week project was more like a three day project as it took a day to get back (if they got back) and a day to reply, etc. Some project partners contribute nothing at all and were given the same grade as those who did all the work. I did most of the work on a project and got the same rating as two turkeys in a group of five that did nothing. One never communicated at all. They did nothing and got the same rating as the one who did all the work.Oh, also, the STUDENTS evaluate each other! Again, you do not know how good or mature or committed your evaluators are who are looking at your work! Doing the evaluations is also a big time committment. It takes hours and hours. Basically, you are grading and not getting paid as a TA!Forget about actually talking with or getting feedback from or questions answered from a TA or professor. The way they “solve” this much needed feature of smaller, tuition based classes it so run a forum. But the forum only becomes a very frustrating place with a lot of slackers begging (Oh, I forgot to hand it in, give me extension…) to those who truly have excellent questions many also would like to hear the answer to but that only the professor can answer, but never will. I won’t tell you about the dozens of mistakes made by the professor (or more likely, mostly the TA running it) on the syllabus, the calendar, incorrect quiz questions and answers, unrealistic work loads and severely short assignment completion times. The class was a confusing mess to start with the first two weeks wasted because of a badly worded first assignment. It finally stabilized after a near uprising by many, then became a mess again. (All of this was due to a lack of academic and pedagogical rigor by the professor. If the course had been completed, edited, and run down line by line before it started, these errors would have been caught. But it became clear, none of that was done.) it felt handed off to the TAs, who seemed very inexperienced, took a lot for granted, and had poor language skills.There were about a dozen other problems. These classes, in no way, compare to actually working with a professor, in person, in a class where you all met prerequisites and were admitted to the university program under at least a basic baseline of qualification to study in the subject. All in the same time zone too. Yes, often with classmates from around the world (which is great) but, all in person, in a room, as a team. Way better.What university did I experience this with on Coursera?

    Stanford!I taught for over 15 years at a number of top rated state research universities and private colleges and have designed courses, rewritten curriculum, and made dozens of syllabi. I kind of know what I am talking about.

    I'm no Luddite too. In the early 1990s, I wanted to design and run some online courses too. But the universities were not ready for it and the money was not there to do it. I think small online courses with the same admittance rigor and prerequisites as in person courses would be great. They can be cheaper in tuition and run a bit more on automatic for many subjects but, for some, you need that expert buy your actual or online side to get you going and answer questions.

    The MOOCs now are far from ready and leave the students behind who most badly need the one on one or at least partial attention given by a professor or TAs.