ACE to Forge New Ground in MOOC Evaluation and Research Effort

Ann McClure's picture
Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Washington, DC —The American Council on Education (ACE) is opening a new front in its groundbreaking initiative to evaluate massive open online courses (MOOCs) for possible college credit and explore how this new learning mode can best spur student success.

The ACE College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE CREDIT®), which has a roster of more than 600 clients, will evaluate for potential credit four courses offered by Udacity, a leading online higher education provider. Those courses are:

Developmental Math (Pre-Algebra) (Math 6L)

College Algebra (Math 8)

Elementary Statistics (Statistics 95)

Introduction to Computer Science (CS 101)

The collaboration between ACE and Udacity is the latest component of a wide-ranging research and evaluation effort to examine the academic potential of MOOCs that ACE announced in November 2012.

That initiative involves working with institutional leaders and organizations like Udacity to leverage ACE's position as the nation's most visible and influential higher education association in order to identify and answer questions about the disruptive potential of this innovative approach to higher education. It is supported by generous funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

"This relationship with Udacity will serve to further advance ACE's research into the potential of MOOCs, an intriguing development in the delivery of higher education," said ACE President Molly Corbett Broad. "As many of our member institutions ask questions about the long-term potential of these courses—such as whether they can help raise degree completion, deepen college curricula and increase learning productivity—ACE is uniquely positioned to uncover the answers."

"We are very excited to work with ACE," said Sebastian Thrun, Udacity CEO and founder. "We believe that MOOCs may provide a new path to competency and learning, and we are thrilled that ACE will help us evaluate the potential of MOOCs. Research and independent evaluation will be critical going forward, as we continue to refine the concept to maximize learning results." "As the postsecondary education landscape continues to evolve, assessing where MOOCs may fit into that landscape for credit purposes is an important part of the national completion agenda," said Cathy A. Sandeen, vice president of ACE's Center for Education Attainment and Innovation. "MOOCs have the potential to support access and opportunity and provide multiple paths of entry to higher education, and this effort with Udacity can play a key role in advancing our understanding of the best path to take in the attempt to fulfill that potential."

Udacity courses

Three of the Udacity MOOCs that ACE will evaluate were created at San Jose State University (CA) on the Udacity platform and are pilot courses designed to boost higher education access and attainment for low-income students. San Jose State announced today that it will grant credit for the three pilot courses—Developmental Math, College Algebra and Elementary Statistics—by bringing instructors and student support back in and by providing proctored, online assessments for student authentication in conjunction with the MOOC. These courses are preparatory and cover subjects that many students need to be successful in university-level courses, especially in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

ACE will evaluate whether to recommend credit for successfully completing the stand-alone MOOCs.

Credit evaluation

In its collaboration with Udacity, ACE CREDIT will apply its rigorous evaluation process to the four courses, as well as provide ACE CREDIT transcripts for students who successfully complete evaluated courses that are recommended for college credit. As part of this process, ACE will explore appropriate criteria for evaluating MOOCs for college credit.

ACE CREDIT has connected workplace learning and higher education since 1974 by helping adults gain credit for courses and exams taken outside traditional degree programs. Clients include Fortune 500 companies like Starbucks and McDonald's, education providers like Skillsoft and government agencies like the Federal Aviation Administration.

During the ACE CREDIT review process, a team of academic faculty from relevant disciplines carefully evaluates courses and exams and makes college credit recommendations. (Actual credit is awarded at the discretion of individual colleges and universities.) In this way, qualified nontraditional education becomes eligible to count toward traditional degree programs. Through the ACE CREDIT Registry and Transcript System, adult learners who have successfully completed courses or exams with valid recommendations can obtain official transcripts for documentation.

Research agenda

As part of its association with Udacity, ACE will undertake a research project that studies the demographics of students who participate in Udacity courses and identifies effective pedagogies and practices that can help students succeed when enrolled in MOOCs. Studying the impact of the San Jose State pilot courses on low-income student populations is part of what ACE will address in research undertaken in alliance with the University of Illinois Springfield's Center for Online Learning, Research, and Service.

As part of the research project, ACE will develop a method for judging the effectiveness of MOOCs as a pedagogical tool, establishing baseline demographic and completion data from students enrolled in a group of courses in the credit evaluation project. ACE will examine the characteristics of students who do and do not complete MOOCs and will also compare students enrolled in MOOCs with those enrolled in traditional online classes, matched by fields of study when possible.

Working with the University Professional and Continuing Education Association, ACE will assess the applicability of ACE CREDIT recommendations to degree completion programs aimed at adult learners. A pilot project with a small number of colleges and universities will seek to determine whether or not MOOCs are successful in re-engaging adult learners.

Founded in 1918, ACE is the major coordinating body for all the nation's higher education institutions, representing more than 1,600 college and university presidents, and more than 200 related associations, nationwide. It provides leadership on key higher education issues and influences public policy through advocacy. For more information, please visit www.acenet.edu or follow ACE on Twitter @ACEducation.

Udacity's mission is to bring accessible, engaging, and effective higher education to the world. We believe that higher education is a basic human right, and we seek to empower our students to develop their skills in order to advance their education and careers. Udacity is bridging education and employable skills with courses in Computer Science, Mathematics, Programming, General Sciences, and Entrepreneurship at www.Udacity.com