To the Editor:
Since 2012 many people have expressed the opinion that MOOCs will, or have the potential to, change higher education. However, before MOOCs begin transforming the manner in which higher education operates in the United States, there are at least a few current educational policies and practices that will hinder the advancement of MOOCs.
Course-credit-hour equivalency: Universities and colleges typically offer courses that are for the most part equivalent to three credit-hours. Some courses that include laboratory work are considered to be worth four credit-hours. The duration and completion times for MOOCs are not the same for all MOOCs. Before college or university credit is offered for coursework completed in a MOOC, higher-education institutions will have to determine the credit-hour equivalencies for MOOCs. Each MOOC will have to be critically evaluated by a national group that is respected by all institutions of higher education. Otherwise different course-equivalency credit-hours could be offered by different colleges and universities, leaving students to shop around for the best offer of course-credit equivalency.
Qualifications of the instructors: All MOOC instructors may not have the qualifications needed to offer a course that will be recognized by colleges and universities. Some instructors may be experts in their fields, but may not have earned terminal degrees in their fields. When a faculty member in an accredited university teaches a course, regional accreditation bodies expect colleges and universities to ensure that the faculty members are qualified to teach the courses. Because not all instructors are likely to be highly qualified, course credits for the MOOCs offered under the auspices of private, unaccredited educational institutions may not be accepted by regionally accredited colleges and universities.
Quality of the course: Before courses are offered at accredited universities, they are reviewed at different levels before they are approved. Only those courses that are approved at the departmental, college, and university levels are listed in published course catalogs. There is no such process when it comes to offering a MOOC. The quality of a MOOC offered by unaccredited institutions is probably not scrutinized as carefully as are courses offered at accredited universities. Many MOOCs are of high quality because they are offered by current or former professors affiliated with prestigious universities. However, in some instances, MOOCs may be offered more because they are popular and bring in huge amounts of money to both the instructors and the institutions that offer them, and not necessarily because of their quality. In the absence of widely accepted measures of quality of MOOCs, each higher-education institution will have to spend lots of time and resources to evaluate the quality of various MOOCs.
Accreditation of the institution offering the MOOC: One of the major roadblocks that private educational organizations will face is that they are not regionally accredited. Universities generally accept credit only from other accredited institutions. Because private entities that offer MOOCs are typically not accredited, it will be hard for traditional institutions of higher education to accept and offer credit for MOOCs that are completed under the auspices of unaccredited institutions.
Limits on the transfer of course credits: At the graduate level, most universities only accept six to nine course credits to be transferred from other educational institutions. In a 30-to-36-credit-hour program, only about a third or less of the coursework can be transferred into a program at the discretion of the program advisors. Such a policy has been in place long before the emergence of MOOCs. Remember that as previously noted, such coursework should have been completed at an accredited institution.
Authentication of student work: One of the problems with all online courses, including MOOCs, is the authentication of the work completed by students. Did the student who submits course-related work complete the work by himself or herself? Or did someone else help the student complete the work? Or did the student pay someone else to do the work? The question “Who is earning the course credit?” should be answered before university credit can be offered for MOOCs. Because students from different parts of the world can enroll in MOOCs, it will be very difficult and probably quite expensive to make proctored exams an integral part of MOOCs.
The much-touted promise and potential of MOOCs to transform higher education has not yet been realized. The way that MOOCs are currently offered resembles the way correspondence courses are offered. Instead of sending content via conventional mail, MOOCs enable students to read the content online. In this sense MOOCs can be considered to be glorified online correspondence courses. Unless the policies and practices discussed in this letter are modified without sacrificing quality, MOOCS will soon be relegated to the margins of higher education.
Associate Professor of Learning Technologies
College of Education
Florida International University