MOOCs for Credit: Current State of the Art

Summary of a presentation by Cathy Sandeen, Centre for Education, Attainment and Innovation, ACE

I am actually a MOOC completer – I thought it was a good idea to experience a MOOC first-hand.

First a word about American Council on Education – we are a Washington D.C. based umbrella organization with about 1800 institutions and work mostly with presidents and chancellors.

‘MOOC Mania’ started in 2012. Some courses had tens of thousands, others hundreds of thousands of enrollment. They were free, anyone could take them, and people took them for all sorts of reasons. They were not for credit. Completion was 9 or 10 percent – but that rate is understandable.

For those who did finish, they wanted a way to recognize their achievement. There were grass-roots methods that were happening – some were posting it on LinkedIn, for example. But the question was, how we could get real academic credit for these courses.

This falls into a category called ‘extra-intuitional credit’. Or ‘prior learning assessment’ (PLA) or ‘credit for prior learning’. This is a transfer credit, and like any transfer credit, it’s up to the degree-granting institution whether or not to apply that credit.

There are three, maybe four, categories of PLA:
1.       Credit by Exam – this is well recognized, they take an exam and get credit.

2.       Course Review – this is the type of PLA that ACE does – we are joined by the National Course Review and Recommendation Service based in New York. We examine the course, and make a recommendation about the type and level of credit that the course is equivalent to. The student sdoes the course, ACE puts them on a transcript, and the student takes the transcript and petitions the institution for credit.

3.       Portfolio review – a student takes a course and learns how to create a portfolio, sort of like an artist’s portfolio, but in this case gaining experiences – Council for Adult and Experiential Learning is a real leader here – it’s not as well known as the first two

4.       Digital Badges – Mozilla is a leader here – it is a recognition of competences, mostly for an occupation or a job; there’s no real equivalence to an academic qualification. But some institutions are looking at how to incorporate badges into their courses.

Only 30 percent of the U.S. population has earned a bachelor’s or higher. Compare this to 55 percent, which is attained by countries like Japan, Canada or South Korea. Various organizations – Gates, Lumina, the Obama administration – are proposing a goal of 60 percent by 2020 or 2025. This is a big gap to fill. 

Why is this important? According to a Georgetown study, 63 percent of occupations will need a degree. That means we will need to educate a million more students than we do today.
73 percent of students are categorized as non-traditional students. We are learning how to measure them differently, measuring outputs rather than inputs (like seat time). 

We want to think of the system as a whole (it’s not really a system, mainly a set of disconnected entities):

So – back to ACE and the credit review. They are widely accepted and students are mostly getting their credit (82 percent) accepted by a degree-granting institution. But there is still some resistance in place.

ACE thought about its course review process and received a grant from the Gates Foundation to see how this could be applied to MOOCs. A pilot was done with five Coursera courses, all four math courses.

Poll in the most important factor to address for MOOC creditworthiness: winners, learning outcomes, with a bit on assessments and proctoring. This is what ACE looks at: not just learning outcomes, but also student engagement and interaction, and authentication and proctoring – making sure the student is really the student doing the course.

Poll: biggest barrier to acceptance: Winner: lack of direct control over academic quality (I (Stephen) voted ‘protection of status quo’). ACE’s response is to make people know faculty are doing the reviews, that it’s voluntary, and that ACE has been doing it for quite some time.

Question: were the guidelines for courses changed when applied to MOOCs?

Response: for the MOOCs we reviewed, no, the guidelines were not changed. They are the guidelines described above, plus ensuring there are ways to prevent academic dishonesty. We don’t prescribe the method, we just have the basic requirement. There are different biometrics – fingerprinting, palm vein, etc. There are two major categories: proctoring at a test site, and web cam proctoring. Coursera uses web cam proctoring, and our faculty found that adequate.

Question: After ACE grants transcripts, it’s still up to institutions to decide whether to accept credit, right?

Response: yes, in this way it’s just like transfer credit. They could examine the MOOC themselves; we help the institutions by doing this for them, if they wish. (Note that there’s an additional fee that’s charged to the student if they opt for the credit option). Many institutions already accept ACE credit recommendations, especially for veterans, who receive credit for training they did during their military service.

Question: How many students have sought credit for the five Coursera courses?

Response: We should know soon, the courses are finishing shortly, and Coursera and ACE will have to decide what is revealed.

Question: Do you see that business will be brisk?

Response: Well, yes. We’re not doing this for the sake of doing it, but it could be big if it meets the needs of the system.

Question: What about the DOE’s statement about giving support to th competency method of gaining credit?

Response: there is a general trend away from an input model toward a general output model, for example, general competencies. We’ve operated under the input model – seat time, class hours, libraries, etc. but we’re moving away from that. Many public institutions are transitioning to a performance-based funding model, rather than an enrollment-based model. The recent guidance is yet another bit of evidence of that trend shifting.

Question: MOOCs have been criticized about cheating, quality, etc. – are MOOCs making progress here?

Response: one of the most exciting aspects of MOOCs is the rapid experimentation. For example, I didn’t talk about the use of predictive analytics. We’re seeing a lot of progress on learning, on the cognitive side, and on authentication of identity, and proctoring – once there’s more transparency in that there will be more confidence.


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