MOOC mania may be slowing

“As scores of colleges rush to offer free online classes, the mania over massive open online courses may be slowing down,” reports Ry Rivard on Inside Higher Ed.

Even MOOC boosters, such as Dan Greenstein, head of postsecondary success at the Gates Foundation, wonders if MOOCs are a “viable thing or are just a passing fad.”

The American Council on Education has recommended credit for eight MOOCs, four by Coursera and four by Udacity. But ACE President Molly Corbett Broad said, “Now is the time for us to step back and do what all of us at universities are the best at doing: criticizing or evaluating or recommending changes or improvements – or some will choose to walk away from this strategy altogether.”

Not a single MOOC passer has applied for credit at Colorado State University-Global Campus, the first college to offer college credit, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.  MOOC students could earn credit for $89, the cost of the required proctored exam, instead of paying $1,050 for a comparable three-credit CSU course.

The offer, made nearly a year ago, applied only to a single MOOC, in computer science. Students may have decided the credits would be useful only if they intended to finish their degrees at Global Campus.

However, the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning‘s Learning Counts, which uses prior-learning assessment to help adults turn off-campus learning into college credit, also is waiting for its first MOOC student.

MOOC providers say many who register for free online courses already have earned college degrees.

Lawmakers in California and Florida drafted bills aimed at making state universities give credit to students who pass certain MOOCs, notes the Chronicle.

But it remains to be seen how common it will be for college students in those states to get credit for MOOCs. Florida last week enacted a milder version of the original bill proposed there; the new law calls for “rules that enable students to earn academic credit for online courses, including massive open online courses, prior to initial enrollment at a postsecondary institution.”

The California bill has undergone a number of revisions, including language that would give university faculty members greater oversight of which MOOCs might be worthy of credit. That bill remains in committee.

Colleges and universities may be willing to integrate MOOCs into traditional, tuition-based courses, but resist “granting credit to students who take a free-floating MOOC,” concludes the Chronicle.

Prior-learning credits help vets graduate

Helping veterans get college credit for skills learned in the military — speeding their way to a degree or credential — is the aim of the Maps to Credentials project, reports Community College Times. The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL), the American Council on Education and the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) are working with three community colleges to develop a prior learning assessment model.

Inver Hills Community College (IHCC) in Minnesota evaluated the most common military occupations for Minnesota National Guard members and “cross-walked them to our coursework,” said Anne Johnson, dean of business and social sciences, at an AACC Workforce Development Institute in San Diego.

. . . a combat engineer might get three credits for the supervisory techniques in a business course at IHCC and three credits for construction management. A unit supply specialist could get three credits each for introduction to computers, introduction to business in society, and principles of management.

The average veteran or active military student is awarded 6.8 prior-learning credits, listed on the transcript by the community college course titles.

Miami Dade College (MDC) gives credits for military experience toward associate degrees in criminal justice, electronics engineering technologies and office administration, as well as certificates in medical assisting. More degrees will be added.

Fayetteville Technical Community College (FTCC), located near Fort Bragg, North Carolina, has mapped military occupational specialties to courses in general education, culinary arts, surgical technology, radiography and emergency medical science.

 Since FTCC started this program in fall 2010, veteran enrollment has increased 40 percent. The college awarded 214 degrees to veterans last spring, compared to just three in spring 2010.

Faculty are finding that “service members are great students,” said Bridget Petzold, program coordinator for business administration/operations management. “They participate in class. They are excited about learning, they bring a lot of experience to the classroom and they bring the discussion up a notch.”

ACE certifies five Coursera MOOCs

Some Coursera students may get college credit for massive online open courses, reports Information Week. The American Council on Education (ACE) has certified five MOOCs taught by university professors: Pre-Calculus and Algebra (University of California at Irvine), Introduction to Genetics and Evolution and Bioelectricity: A Quantitative Approach (Duke) and Calculus: A Single Variable (Penn). The algebra course is for developmental students; the rest merit college credit, ACE decided.

So far, even Duke, Penn and Irvine don’t plan to award credit for their own professors’ MOOCs, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Penn students who take the calculus MOOC and pass a department exam can move on to a higher-level course, but don’t receive credit.

Duke Provost Peter Lange said his school won’t award credit to its own students or to others who enroll in its Bioelectricity and Genetics classes online, two of the Coursera options that ACE has recommended for credit. Though the classes are led by Duke professors, he said, “they’re not taught the way we teach Duke courses” because they don’t have a set meeting time, nor do they involve face-to-face instruction.

While college administrators say it’s hard to verify what MOOC students have learned, elite universities “have a major financial incentive to limit academic credit only to registered, paying students—and not those following along free online,” notes the Journal. “Undergraduate tuition and required fees at Duke and Penn top $40,000 this school year, while out-of-state students pay nearly $37,000 at Irvine.”

At community colleges, where tuition is heavily subsidized, awarding credits to MOOC students could cut costs and open up classroom seats for students who prefer a face-to-face education.

MOOC-ing the college cartel

Online learning will revolutionize higher education and liberate students from ever-rising college costs, predicts Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy, in an interview with MIT Technology Review.

Here’s what I think it could look like in five years: the learning side will be free, but if and when you want to prove what you know, and get a credential, you would go to a proctoring center [for an exam]. And that would cost something. Let’s say it costs $100 to administer that exam. I could see charging $150 for it. And then you have a $50 margin that you can reinvest on the free-learning side.

 Khan has a book out called The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined,

What’s a credit worth? Moves to give credits to students for taking massive open online courses (MOOCS) or demonstrating competency are threatening the college cartel, writes Jeff Selingo on The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The American Council on Education will review some free online courses offered by elite universities through Coursera and may recommend that other colleges accept credit for them.

Right now, it is easy for most institutions to deny students who ask to transfer credits from their local community college or a for-profit provider, such as StraighterLine. They just say the quality is not up their standards.

But what happens when students arrive at the registrars’ office with credit-bearing courses from professors at Stanford, Penn, and Princeton? What will the excuse be then to reject the credits—that the courses were free? Such an excuse might finally expose the true reason many colleges refuse to accept transfer credits: They want students to pay them tuition for a class, not another institution.

In addition, Southern New Hampshire University’s accreditor has approved its new competency-based associate degree, which is based on students’ knowledge rather than time in class. Students will pay no more than $2,500 a year. The university is working with local employers to design the curriculum.

Western Governors University pioneered the idea. Now, “Southern New Hampshire is about to show whether the idea can work within the walls of a traditional university,” Selingo writes. Northern Arizona University and the University of Wisconsin system also are developing competency-based degrees.

UW’s Flexible Option will let adult students “earn college credit by demonstrating knowledge they have acquired through coursework, military training, on-the-job training, and other learning experiences.”

College credits without college classes

Prior learning assessment — college credit for skills and knowledge acquired outside the classroom — is “poised to break into the mainstream in a big way,” predicts Inside Higher Ed.  “The national college completion push and the expanding adult student market are driving the growth.”

The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) and the American Council on Education (ACE) are promoting ways to compare prior learning with college coursework. But some people are “nervous,” writes Inside Higher Ed.

When done right, the process is a far cry from taking money to offer credit for “life experience.” But that notion persists. And perhaps more fairly, some in higher education worry that the “completion agenda” is putting pressure on colleges to lower the bar for a degree or credential, including through prior learning.

In ACE’s model, faculty teams generate credit recommendations. CAEL has created LearningCounts to assess student portfolios. Other colleges do their own assessment or use exams such as the College Level Examination Program (CLEP), Excelsior College Exams and the DANTES Subject Standardized Tests.

The for-profit American Public University System (APUS) will provide online classes — and credit for prior learning — to WalMart employees, reports a follow-up story.

In surveys, 72 percent of employees preferred a fully accredited online university to their local community college, WalMart found. At $638 for a three-credit course, APUS is more expensive than most community colleges, but cheaper than many online providers.

Taking it one step farther, Cato’s Andrew Coulson suggests an online portfolio could serve as a self-designed credential.

. . . decide what it is you would like to learn over those four years and then… learn it. Thanks to the Web, the material covered in virtually every undergraduate program is readily available at little cost — and the same is true for many advanced programs. And, having learned it, spend a few hundred dollars to create a website or even simply a YouTube channel on which you demonstrate your new skills/understanding.  . . . when you’re ready to apply for work, submit your resume with a link to this portfolio of relevant work.

Employers, ask yourself this question: Would you rather hire someone with a portfolio such as the one described above, visibly demonstrating competency and personal initiative, or someone with a degree that is generally supposed to signalthat competency, but that you can’t readily assess for yourself?

Coulson dubs these portfolios the student’s savoir-faire, which translates as “know how to do.”


From combat to college

To protect veterans and service members from aggressive, dishonest college recruiters, President Obama signed an executive order last week requiring a “know before you owe” fact sheet, counseling on how to complete a degree and stronger oversight of improper recruitment practices.

Recently Student Veterans of America revoked charters for campus groups at 26 for-profit colleges, charging the groups were not started by student veterans and don’t provide “a community of individuals that share similar experiences.” Schools may be using fake SVA chapters to advertise themselves as “veteran friendly,” the group charges.

The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill provided more than $7.7 billion for 555,000 veterans and dependents to attend college last year. Most choose community colleges or for-profit colleges.

However, most will not complete a degree, warns the Center for American Progress. Easing the Transition from Combat to Classroom suggests ways for colleges to help vets succeed.

Returning veterans often face myriad challenges when it comes to higher education, including reacquainting themselves with academic work, navigating complicated campus administrative systems, finding support services to meet their needs, encountering negative reactions from the campus community based on their participation in military conflicts, and having difficulty connecting with classmates and faculty.

The report helps colleges analyze whether they have the right veteran-support structures in place. It’s designed to work with the American Council on Education’s “Veteran Friendly Toolkit.”