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MOOCs Making Strides Toward Credit

In the last week, Udacity and edX massive open online courses have made major strides toward counting toward degrees.

Both MOOC providers announced they have entered into programs with the Pearson VUE service, which will administer proctored exams for the courses. Students who successfully complete proctored exams earn certificates noting they have completed the exams.

Anant Agarwal, president of edX, said on a conference call with reporters that the move to proctored examinations came about as a way of making MOOC certificates more valuable.

“From our discussions with employers and institutions, they certainly feel much more comfortable with proctored certificates, because these really reflect the students’ own work,” Agarwal said.

At the moment, only one course through edX will have a proctored exam available, though the organization has not yet revealed which course it will be or how much the testing will cost.

Udacity also announced that Pearson VUE will be administering proctored examinations for one of its courses, but they are further along the process than edX.

The course—a computer sciences course geared toward building a search engine—will have a proctored examination that will cost $89 for students to complete. Moreover, after completing the proctored exam, students can earn three transfer credits toward a bachelor’s degree at Colorado State University’s Global Campus.

The university agreed to accept transfer credits from Udacity on the recommendation of a committee composed of four information technology faculty members, who reviewed the course (CS 101, the first course offered by Udacity) and its methods of assessing student learning.

Sebastian Thrun, the founder of Udacity, did not reveal how many other institutions are considering following the lead of CSU Global Campus, but told The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Katherine Mangan that the proctored exams account for the greater fears institutions have about MOOCs.

“It overcomes some of the main concerns about the authenticity of students and the absence of cheating,” he said.

While Colorado State University would be the first American-based institution to award transfer credits for Udacity courses, several universities in Austria and Germany already do so.

David Evans, who now teaches the CS 101 course, told Mangan that having an American university officially recognizing knowledge earned through MOOCs is an important step.

“It’s recognizing that students really can learn well in online courses that are structured in the right way and have the rigor traditional universities expect.”