The initiative, spearheaded by Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, also includes EPFL in Switzerland, the Australian National University, the University of Queensland, the University of British Columbia and Boston University, and is set to begin with a pilot programme later this year.
“Even with our 700,000 learners, there are certain target groups that we have not reached yet”
The aim of the project is to enable students to gain credit for MOOCs taken at any of the institutions involved to count towards a qualification at their home university.
Delft currently runs 25 MOOCs, all through the edX platform, but hopes that the collaboration will help it to reach a broader range of students.
“If you look at the MOOCs, even with our 700,000 learners, there are certain target groups that we have not reached yet, and funnily enough, one of those target groups is our own students,” Anka Mulder, vice-president of education and operations at Delft, told The PIE News.
Students at Delft are unlikely to take courses run by the university because they cannot obtain credit for them, she explained.
“That has all kinds of logical reasons, for example testing – MOOCs were not made as part of a regular curriculum, but at the same time it’s a pity,” she said.
“If you would open up other MOOCs from other universities for your own students, or even your own MOOCs, they would have access to this huge portfolio of interesting education.”
There are a number of obstacles to overcome in developing a credit transfer system, particularly given that many of the universities’ existing MOOCs were not designed as credit-bearing courses, Mulder added.
“Coming up with the idea is easy, but working out the details is harder,” she explained.
“Coming up with the idea is easy, but working out the details is harder”
The first step in implementing the programme will be asking course directors at the respective universities to look at other providers’ courses in order to see if there are elements they could add to their own curricula.
Another goal will be to develop a system comparable to the European Credit Transfer System, including a method of classifying the level of each course, which Mulder predicted will “take some time”.
Navigating finances is another challenge; tuition fees vary drastically between the countries where each of the institutions is located, and for this reason Mulder said there will likely be no financial transactions between the universities.
Despite the challenges, Mulder is optimistic that the pilot could open up big opportunities for the universities involved.
While exchanges already enable students to take courses at other institutions, allowing them to study particular courses at other universities for credit online without having to conduct a physical exchange could mean that universities are able to enroll students in “really, really big numbers”, she said.
In the coming weeks, the alliance will try to identify which courses to include in a pilot for the programme, with a view to launch the pilot this summer.
It is likely to begin with generic learning for PhD courses, minors or electives, which will be simpler to navigate than undergraduate courses, Mulder said.
“We’ll see what the easiest first steps are, and we’ll start with those.”