U will not accept MOOC credit, yet

A nat’l education group OK’d five MOOCs for credit earlier this month.

Tyler Gieseke

Although several massive open online courses were formally declared creditworthy for the first time earlier this month, higher education institutions still won’t accept transfer credits for them.

The American Council on Education, an association of more than 1,800 higher education institutions including the University of Minnesota, said five MOOCs in math, bioelectricity and genetics deserve credit.

Students seeking credit for MOOCs would need to pay for proctored exams, have their identities verified and receive transcripts, according to the Associated Press.

The council’s announcement is essentially advice, said Karen Hanson, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. Member institutions don’t necessarily have to follow the recommendation.

The University has no immediate plans to accept credit for these MOOCs, Hanson said.

“It’s a new wrinkle on the horizon, and it’s one that we’ll want to examine together with the faculty,” she said.

She said none of the institutions that created these MOOCs are accepting them for credit, partly because they’re unsure whether they provide the same experiences that a resident, enrolled student would have.

The University continually evaluates whether it will grant transfer credit from various outside sources, Hanson said, adding that faculty would want to see any MOOC’s syllabus and assess items like the quality of the course and students’ performance.

Mathematics professor Scot Adams said the calculus course approved for credit on the site Coursera isn’t analogous to many other institutions’ because the online course requires students to have a high school calculus background.

Genetics, bioelectricity and two math MOOCs were all approved for undergraduate credit, while an algebra course was recommended for vocational credit, Hanson said. They’re available for free on Coursera.

At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, students won’t automatically receive transfer credit for these five courses either because the institution hasn’t yet evaluated them, said Amy Goodburn, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs, in an email.

Students also haven’t asked to have these courses evaluated as part of their transfer, she said.

University psychology sophomore Maddie Hansen said she would be interested in taking a MOOC for credit.

She said she liked an online course she took previously because it cleared up a lot of time for her.

“Especially if it can be taken at any time,” she said. “Who doesn’t want to take a free class?”

Faculty response

Some faculty members are supportive of not rushing into a decision to grant credit for MOOCs.

Bryan Mosher, director of undergraduate studies in the University’s School of Mathematics, said he agrees with the decision to “proceed carefully.”

He said he thinks the University needs to respond to the growing presence of MOOCs, but it needs to stay true to its strengths, like the enriching experiences that exist beyond coursework.

“There’s definitely interest at the University level, but I think it’s so early that a lot of the details haven’t been worked out yet,” said David Kirkpatrick, associate professor in the Department of Genetics, Cell Biology and Development.

Another challenge surrounding MOOCs is the course design.

Since MOOCs are self-directed by students, Kirkpatrick said it takes a certain amount of effort and willpower on the student’s part to get through them.

“This is just another option for students to pursue for gaining extra knowledge or shortening the amount of time it takes for them to graduate, that kind of thing,” Kirkpatrick said.

Besides looking into transfer credit, Hanson said the University is considering the role MOOCs could play in outreach.

For example, Hanson said MOOCs could help the University disseminate the work of faculty to a broader public.

“We’re experimenting in this area, being attentive to new possibilities and trying to make sure we move this new technology forward in a way that’s most useful for our students,” she said.