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Beyond the News

Managing MOOC Credits

University Business, January 2013

The American Council on Education (ACE) has announced a research effort examining the academic potential of massive open online courses (MOOCs), in which it will evaluate select Coursera courses for college credit. If the ACE College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE CREDIT) decides to recommend these courses for credit, it could mean an improvement in college affordability for hundreds of thousands of students. It will also raise some logistical questions for administrators at colleges and universities.

Although the decision to accept credits is ultimately up to an institution, the 2,000 institutions that currently accept the recommendations of ACE CREDIT will likely follow suit, says Jeffrey von Munkwitz-Smith, president of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers and assistant vice president and university registrar at Boston University.

“Many other institutions do not participate and most of these probably will not begin to do so based on this new initiative,” he says. “At those institutions the expectation is that work will only transfer if it was taken at a regionally accredited institution and the evaluation is performed by the faculty of the accepting institution. I do wonder how many of the institutions offering the MOOCs through Coursera or organizations are, or will be, willing to allow their own students to take them for credit.”

One significant concern for registrars and admissions offices, that MOOCs for credit will intensify, is identity management, shares von Munkwitz-Smith. In an online environment it is difficult, if not impossible, to verify that the students signed up for the courses are the ones actually taking them.

“For most of us in these professions, I expect that merely viewing a photo ID via a webcam will not be sufficient proof of identity,” he says.

One school paving the way for granting MOOC credits is the University of California, Irvine. Two of the institution’s OpenCourseWare initiative courses, available through a partnership with Coursera, will be available for evaluation by the ACE.

Additionally, students at the College of St. Scholastica (Minn.) can now apply work from online courses toward completion of their degrees, through Scholastica’s CSS Complete pilot program. The program, which previously awarded credit for off-campus learning such as military service, volunteer experience, or work history, has added MOOCs to that list.