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American Council on Education Looking to Recommend MOOCs for Credit

Last week, the American Council on Education agreed to review a number of massive open online courses being offered by elite universities and may recommend that other colleges and universities grant credit for their completion.

This could help students speed up their time to degree completion while reducing their tuition spending. It could also help MOOCs overcome the “usefulness” barrier that has been one of the major and recurring critiques of the industry.

The group will be receiving approximately 10 MOOCs offered by Coursera to determine whether they will be included in the council’s College Credit Recommendation Service—a program that has been in existence since the 1970s and typically certifies training courses offered outside higher education institutions which students should earn college credit for completing. Included in this service are courses offered by McDonald’s Hamburger University, among others.

StraighterLine, a provider of low-cost online courses, was included into the recommendation service last year.

Molly Corbett Broad, the president of ACE, told The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Jeffrey Young that the review process will be similar to the approach taken by regional accreditors. Under review will be, among other elements, course content, teaching methods and student engagement.

One of the biggest hurdles Coursera will need to leap in order to move their selected courses along toward certification is the need to develop a system for authenticating the identity of students. This means there must be some form of proctored examination in order to provide that students are who they claim to be online.

This is not impossible, though. For the pilot project, Coursera will partner with an online proctoring company that uses webcams and other special software to monitor examinations remotely.

However, credits are still some ways away for Coursera.

“I don’t want people to say, ‘Can I get credit for my MOOC tomorrow?'” Daphne Koller, co-founder of Coursera, told Young. “The answer is No. We haven’t even started assessing these MOOC’s.”

Should Coursera win accreditation for its courses, there isn’t expected to be a significant change to the way higher education institutions accept and process students.

“It is already the case that about half of the graduates from Austin Peay State University did not begin with us. They bring transfer credit,” Tristan Denley, provost at Austin Peay State University, told Young. “So we are not averse in any way to transfer credit—this is just another source of that.”