Certification group says five Coursera classes measure up, but universities must decide whether to award formal credit.

Michael Fitzgerald, Contributor

February 7, 2013

4 Min Read

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Some Coursera students might be able to get college credit for their courses, after Wednesday's move by the American Council on Education (ACE) to certify five Coursera classes.

Coursera, which offers massive online open courses, also known as MOOCs, is one of several efforts to bring higher education online. It now has a lineup of more than 200 classes, organized and taught by professors at 33 universities.

The ACE, a higher education organization, certified "Pre-Calculus" and "Algebra," both offered by The University of California, Irvine; "Introduction to Genetics and Evolution" and "Bioelectricity: A Quantitative Approach," both offered by Duke University; and "Calculus: A Single Variable," offered by University of Pennsylvania. Four of these are for college credit; the fifth, Algebra, is a developmental math class for vocational schools.

[ What does the future hold for online learning? Read Is 2013 Year Of The MOOC? ]

Coursera noted that more than 2,000 universities and colleges consider ACE recommended-courses for credit. But schools do not have to give credit for such classes. Even the schools that are offering the classes say they don't plan to give students credit for taking them. Officials at Duke, Penn and UC-Irvine told The Wall Street Journal they have no plans to offer formal credit for these classes.

One stumbling block in giving credit for classes has been that online courses are still developing some of the measures used to assess student performance, such as exams and grades. Coursera noted that students who would like to receive a college credit for the classes must sign up for the course in what it calls Signature Track. That verifies the student's participation. The student must also pay to take a proctored exam, through ProctorU, a separate company. Students then must request a transcript for the courses through ACE.

The five classes certified by ACE are the only Coursera courses that currently offer Signature Track. Later in February, two more classes will become part of Signature Track.

One university that is giving credit for MOOCs is Colorado State University-Global Campus, a fully online, regionally-accredited university that last year said it would give full transfer credit for students who completed Udacity's "Introduction to Computer Science: Building a Search Engine." Udacity is a Coursera competitor.

Some schools have developed for-credit classes with MOOC providers. San Jose State University and Udacity are piloting two basic math classes and one introductory statistics class for credit. EdX, a non-profit MOOC put together by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is piloting for-credit computer science classes at Bunker Hill Community College and MassBay Community College.

ACE began evaluating the classes at Coursera's request in November 2012. In January, ACE said that it would also evaluate four classes from Udacity. Those classes include "Developmental Math (pre-algebra)," "College Algebra," "Elementary Statistics" and "Introduction to Computer Science." Of the four, all but the introductory computer science class are being piloted for credit by San Jose State.

ACE cited interest from its members in MOOCs as a way to improve the number of students who complete degrees -- almost half of students who attend two and four-year schools fail to earn a degree within six years of starting -- and to expand curriculum offerings.

The certification announcement is a bit of good news for Coursera, which earlier this week had to pull a course offline, due to technical and other issues.

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About the Author(s)

Michael Fitzgerald


Michael Fitzgerald writes about the power of ideas and the people who bring them to bear on business, technology and culture.

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