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.”

New tool helps adults get credit for experience

To award college credits for students’ prior learning, colleges need a way to assess their training and experience, notes Community College Times. Rio Salado College in Arizona is using LearningCounts, an electronic portfolio-assessment initiative from the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL).

Students create electronic portfolios that are “assessed by expert faculty members from across the U.S. who examine the content and breadth of each student’s on-the-job learning, corporate training, independent study, military service and volunteer service,” reports Community College Times. LearningCounts then recommends how much credit to award.

Houston Community College (HCC) in Texas is using CAEL’s tool to provide an objective portfolio assessment, said Madeline Burillo, associate vice chancellor for workforce instruction at HCC.

“Especially in large community college systems where you have different colleges, a department chair at one college might have a different opinion about a portfolio than a department chair from another college.”

North Iowa Area Community College (NIACC) is testing LearningCounts to replace a cumbersome portfolio-assessment process.

Credits for competence

More colleges are looking at competency rather than class time in awarding credits, reports the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning.

In some cases, colleges add competency measures to traditional courses. For example, Delaware County Community College (DCCC) in Pennsylvania identifies the learning outcomes expected for each course as well as the competencies expected of degree earners. These range from mastering reading, writing, speech, math and technology to developing a “concept of self” and appreciating diversity.

 A few colleges and universities are using a competency model to “disrupt” higher education.

At DePaul University’s School for New Learning (SNL), students can demonstrate they’ve mastered the competencies required for a degree by preparing portfolios showing their prior learning or taking courses.

At Western Governors University (WGU), there are no required courses, just required competencies. Students gain knowledge and skills on their own, with the help of  faculty mentors, but they can demonstrate competencies at their own pace and earn a degree based on what they have learned from a variety of sources, including work and other life experiences.

Arizona’s Rio Salado College, which has a huge online enrollment, incorporates competency assessment into each course.

Assessed learning outcomes are critical thinking, writing, information literacy, reading, and, recently adopted, sustainability.

Both DCCC and Rio Salado offer a quality guarantee: If a graduate’s skills or competencies do not meet the expectations of employers or, for DCCC, transfer baccalaureate institutions, the student may enroll for more coursework at no charge.

Last week, the University of Wisconsin announced a flexible degree program:

The unique self-paced, competency-based model will allow students to start classes anytime and earn credit for what they already know. Students will be able to demonstrate college-level competencies based on material they already learned in school, on the job, or on their own, as soon as they can prove that they know it.

The goal is to make a college degree “significantly more affordable and accessible to substantially more people.”


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.”


Adult students seek credit for experience

Some colleges are giving students credit for work and life experience, writes Jon Marcus for the Hechinger Report and McClatchy Newspapers. But, so far, few students are turning on-the-job experience into college credits and speedier degrees.

The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning is trying to change that by launching a campaign to enable adults to prepare online portfolios of their job experience that independent faculty will evaluate for academic credit.

One hundred institutions in 30 states are on board. Top higher-education associations back the coalition, and major foundations are bankrolling it. It hopes to reach tens of thousands of people within five years.

Professors often oppose giving credit for experience, said Pamela Tate, who heads the council. “They still believe that ‘If you weren’t in my class, you couldn’t possibly know it,’ ” she said.

Credit for work experience can have its downsides. The credits are difficult to transfer if you change universities, and substituting them for introductory requirements can cause problems for students later in their careers, when they can’t keep up with classmates in writing or other basic academic skills.

Forty percent of college students are 25 and older.

“All of our institutional frameworks have been created around 18-year-olds coming out of high schools without any experience. They’re the empty vessels into which we pour knowledge. But when you’re a working adult, you’re hardly an empty vessel,” said Lee Gorsuch, the president of CityU.

“You learn by doing,” Gorsuch added. “We’re not anti-intellectual, but can you balance a spreadsheet or can’t you?”

Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges, a consortium 0f 1,900 colleges and universities, helps veterans get credit for military training and experience. Some  45,892 vets earned 805,473 credits last year.

Navy veteran John McGowan was awarded enough credits for his electronics training and other military experience that he got a bachelor’s degree in half the usual time from Irvine, Calif.-based Brandman University, even while working full time. “I went from zero college to a bachelor’s degree in two years,” McGowan said.

In some cases, experienced students can earn credit by passing a test. But often students have to put together autobiographical portfolios for faculty review, paying as much as if they’d enrolled in the course.