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Editorial | Online courses should count for credit

Published: Monday, November 19, 2012

Updated: Monday, November 19, 2012 08:11


A report this week from the American Council on Education (ACE) initiated a discussion on the qualification processes for Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs). It announced the partnership between the ACE, a top institution in the world of higher education, and Coursera, a company that makes courses available online, to ascertain whether certain ones are on par with traditional college classes and, therefore, deserve to be counted for credit at different schools across the country.

“With the additional benefits of ACE credit recommendation for Coursera courses, students will have an unprecedented opportunity to obtain recognized credentials for their work,” former President of Princeton and the Mellon Foundation William G. Bowen said in a New York Times article published on Nov. 13. For those able to access MOOCs, these alternatives to traditional classroom courses can offer a more affordable gateway to better education and, eventually, better employment. Assuming the coursework is comparable, we believe these should be counted for course credit. 

MOOCs have the potential to open academic doors for everyone with Internet access and the ability to pay the necessary fees. Participants can expand their minds — and resumes — in a time when education has become increasingly expensive and jobs are still difficult to come by.

The report by the ACE expresses support for the idea and discusses methods to make sure the courses are properly accredited. In an article for the Chronicle of Higher Education, President of the ACE Molly Corbett Broad said that the process would be “similar to the way regional accreditation works.” To attain the level of credibility looked for in these courses, the Chronicle article discussed the importance of student verification and proctored examinations as well as other mechanisms to deter cheating, such as webcam usage. Other entities in the free course industry such as Udacity, a startup competing with Coursera, and edX, the non-profit started by Harvard University and M.I.T., use end-of-course exams at testing centers run by Pearson as their method of course and student verification, according to the Chronicle.

The Internet has connected us in ways that were unimaginable little more than a decade ago. MOOCs and education initiatives like them are concrete applications of the digital connectivity that the web has brought us, along with broad and beneficial implications. If successful, institutions like these could fundamentally change the way we learn, how much it costs to learn and the number of people with the opportunity to do so.

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