College credit for online courses and eliminating and changing weak universities

USA Today – The American Council on Education, a non-profit organization that represents most of the nation’s college and university presidents, is preparing to weigh in on massive open online courses — MOOCs, for short — a new way of teaching and learning that has taken higher education by storm in recent months.

A stamp of approval from the organization could enhance the value of MOOCs to universities and lead to lower tuition costs for students, who could earn credit toward a college degree for passing a particular course. At issue is whether the quality of the courses offered through MOOCs are equivalent to similar courses offered in traditional classrooms.

Part of the council’s plan, announced Tuesday and beginning next year, involves teams of faculty that will examine the content and rigor of particular courses to evaluate whether they should be recommended for college credit. Central to that activity is a division of the council, called ACE CREDIT, that was created in 1974 to help adults gain credit for courses and exams taken outside traditional degree programs. The team makes recommendations and provides transcripts for documentation, but it would be up to individual schools whether to accept the course for credit.

The initiative, to be funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, also will involve research on the impact of MOOCs. A task force of top administrators will convene to discuss the potential for MOOCs to improve student learning and boost college attainment levels. A pilot project involving a small number of colleges and universities aims to explore whether MOOCs are successful in engaging adult learners.

Technology Review – the arrival of MOOCs is adding to an already “huge pressure” to improve [third world universities]. And early data on the new Web classes suggest they may have similar impacts elsewhere. Coursera, the largest MOOC company, reported in August that of its first million users, 62 percent were from outside the U.S., led by students in Brazil, India, China, and Canada.

It seems likely that weak universities would either be closed or would have classes around EDx, Coursera and Udacity lectures with teaching assistants and facilities to provide hands on lab work and other extra discussion to facilitate the online courses.

This will raise the lower end of university education. There will be a minimum level of quality for education lectures.

So far, students are coalescing around such classes in ways that are improvised and ad hoc. Some are using online bulletin boards to arrange study groups at cafés in cities like Shanghai and Madrid. “We do hope that people grab these classes and build on them,” says Anant Agarwal, the head of edX and the teacher whose voice is heard narrating the electronics class. He even imagines overseas “educational dormitories” springing up, where some entrepreneur might charge for food and a bed and perhaps supply a teaching assistant to help with classwork.

In several cases, enterprising teachers have taken the lead. A U.S. graduate student, Tony Hyun Kim, used edX last spring to teach high school students in Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia. A dozen passed the course. After hearing about it, the National University of Mongolia sent several deans on a mission to visit Agarwal at edX’s offices in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

While MOOCs could be an opportunity to improve education in poor regions, they’re also profoundly threatening to bad professors and to weak institutions. Sebastian Thrun, the Google R&D chief who also runs educational startup Udacity, has predicted that within 50 years there might only be 10 universities still “delivering” higher education.

Some universities already are incorporating MOOCs into their programs. Last month, Antioch University in Los Angeles announced it had entered into a contract with Coursera, one of the most prominent MOOC providers, to offer course credit for certain courses. In addition to taking the online Coursera course, students also would work with a faculty member on campus who also took the course.

The first courses to be evaluated through the American Council on Education have not been identified but will be offered by Coursera, a for-profit company that partners with 33 universities to offer about 200 online courses. Other MOOC providers include Udacity and EdX. The process is scheduled to start early next year.

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