It’s all part of a broader effort to get beyond the hype surrounding MOOCs to determine whether the classes have the potential, as some have said, to transform higher education in the same way the Internet revolutionized publishing, retailing and journalism.
The hope is that they’ll provide alternative — and less expensive — means to get a degree. A three-credit course might cost several thousand dollars at a traditional university, while the same class offered as a MOOC would likely be under $200.
Still, some worry that the classes, which are usually free, can never provide the same quality of education or variety of experience that a bricks-and-mortar school offers.
UMUC has agreed to grant credit for six courses that closely match its own introductory offerings. But to get the credit, students will have to prove that they know the material. That can be done one of two ways: by taking a paid version of the course for $150 or less, which includes proctored exams, or by going through a rigorous “prior learning assessment” process at UMUC, which measures competency in a topic. No students have signed on yet.
“I don’t want anybody to think we’re giving away credit,” said Marie Cini, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at UMUC.
A college education has never been more important for socioeconomic success or more expensive, President Barack Obama said last month in announcing his plans for education reform, which include a challenge for schools to come up with less expensive ways to deliver an excellent education.
He highlighted MOOCs — which frequently follow a format of short, online video lectures, assignments and quizzes — as possible game-changers. And U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said that they have “become one of the most significant catalysts of innovation in higher education.”
Last spring, Georgia Tech announced plans for a MOOC master’s in computer science that will cost less than $7,000 to complete, compared with more than $40,000 for out-of-state students who pursue the same degree on campus. So far, it appears to be the only MOOC degree out there, despite an intense focus on the online classes by university officials across the country.
College board members and trustees are pushing institutions to investigate MOOCs because they’re worried that they will be left behind if they don’t, education advocates said.
“For the first 40 years of my career, very little changed in higher education, and now, wow, things are really hopping,” said Ray Schroeder, associate vice chancellor for online learning at the University of Illinois Springfield. “It’s just amazing to me. I’m just infatuated with all of this.”