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USA: ACE backs credit for five MOOCs

In a further step towards formal recognition by the higher education community, five Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) on the Coursera platform have been recommended for accreditation by the American Council on Education (ACE) following a pilot project. However the universities involved are yet to say whether they themselves will award credit for the courses.

Some say MOOCs threaten the traditional delivery higher education— but they have largely remained unaccredited

The five undergraduate MOOCs endorsed are in science or maths subjects at Duke Universitythe University of Pennsylvania and the University of California, Irvine. Molly Corbett Broad, president of ACE, said a rigorous evaluation showed they met ACE’s standards for college credit recommendations.

“This is an important first step in ACE’s work to examine the long-term potential of MOOCs and whether this innovative new approach can engage students across the country and worldwide while helping raise degree completion, increasing learning productivity and deepening college curricula,” she said.

“When something that big in education occurs we’re going to pay attention to it”

Some say MOOCs – free courses delivered online worldwide by top universities – threaten the traditional delivery of higher education. But they have largely remained unaccredited since their launch last year.

This may be changing: last month, San Jose State University teamed up with the Udacity platform to award credit, for a fee, to students enrolled in three courses whether or not they were registered students at the university. Uptake of MOOCs grew significantly last year, mostly in the US, and demand for recognition may grow.

Acknowledging the rise, Cathy Sandeen, ACE’s vice-president for Education Attainment and Innovation told The PIE News: “As the US’s largest organisation representing all sectors of higher education when something that big in education occurs we’re going to pay attention to it.”

The five new MOOCs have been recognised under the ACE CREDIT system, through which experts determine a course’s credit equivalency to university degree courses. More than 2,000 higher education institutions use ACE CREDIT as a gauge for credit transfers.

It remains unclear whether the universities involved will accept ACE’s recommendations

However, it is unclear whether the three universities involved will accept ACE’s endorsement, with ACE suggesting it may be more useful for professional development.

“One of the things that we had to make sure was in place in order to make the credit recommendation was a method for authenticating student identity and proctoring the examinations,” said Sandeen. “That’s necessary for university credit but there’s lots of other uses. We hear stories that students show the fact that they completed a course successfully to employers or potential employers and it was considered.”

The accreditation of the courses is part of a broader research agenda in which ACE will work with both Coursera and Udacity – two of the biggest MOOC platforms in operation – to gather data on student demographics, teaching pedagogy, student engagement and student outcomes through the courses. ACE is also in conversations to include EdX, another big MOOC player, in its research.

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