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Many MOOC professors do not support offering credit, yet see value in courses

The Chronicle of Higher Education released the data on Monday from its February study of professors who teach MOOCs. GRAPHIC BY MICHELLE JAY/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF
The Chronicle of Higher Education released the data on Monday from its February study of professors who teach MOOCs. GRAPHIC BY MICHELLE JAY/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

A majority of professors who teach massive open online courses do not believe credit should be awarded, yet believe the courses play an important role in the changing face of education and have inherent value, according to new data.

Boston University Associate Provost for Undergraduate Affairs Elizabeth Loizeaux, who is head of BU’s Council on Educational Technology and Learning Innovation, said it is not contradictory for professors to believe MOOCs are valuable and yet not worth traditional college credit.

“There is not a contradiction, it’s just that the experiment is still in process and the answers are not yet known,” Loizeaux said in an email. “The big experiment now is whether it is possible to offer high quality online courses for free courses in which students learn as much, if not more, than in face-to-face courses.”

Many universities, including BU, have already begun experimenting with using components of MOOCs, such as video lectures, as a way to create more interactive and substantial discussions during class time, Loizeaux said.

CETLI members are exploring the role of new educational technologies such as MOOCs and whether such technologies would be efficient and appropriate in some manner at BU.

The Chronicle of Higher Education released the results of a survey Monday that asked 103 professors who taught MOOCs for their opinions on the online courses.

Seventy-nine percent of professors surveyed said MOOCs are “worth the hype,” while 72 percent said students who succeed in such online courses do not deserve credit from their home institutions, according to the survey data. 66 percent said they do not expect their home institution to grant credit to successful students.

Additionally, 45 percent of professors said MOOCs could decrease the cost of earning a degree, according to the survey data.

Kevin McGrath, associate in Sanskrit and Indian studies at Harvard University, said in an email he teaches an online humanities course and does not offer traditional credit for it. Rather, McGrath said he awards students a Certificate of Mastery, as do many other MOOC professors.

“In the Humanities, where thoughtful essays are required for evaluation purposes, there is at present no [mechanical] alternative,” McGrath said.

McGrath said he is optimistic that MOOCs will quickly become an effective way to educate people once greater technologies are created.

“We are developing the use of an annotation tool [for grading essays] and a ‘tagging’ process, [so that giving] credits will at some point probably become possible,” McGrath said.

David Malan, senior lecturer on computer science at Harvard College who teaches a free online course, said in an email that students who find themselves more focused or better guided in more traditional classrooms will not find MOOCs as compelling.

“Similarly, students for whom mastery of some subject does not come very naturally might find a MOOC on that subject a wholly inferior alternative to more personalized, one-on-one interactions on campus,” he said.

“MOOCs are a great way for people who are highly motivated and already knowledgeable about the subject or topic to gain expertise,” said Laura Jimenez, a BU School of Education professor, in an email. “However, there is an extremely high attrition rate.”

Although students typically take MOOCs because of their interest in a specific subject, Jimenez said there is a significant loss of those who cannot maintain the focus that is required.

“MOOCs carry their own challenges,” she said. “Most educational technology research suggests that at least some synchronous or face-to-face interaction with peers boasts engagement with the course.”

One Comment

  1. Interesting post, thanks! This is something I’ve been hearing a lot lately through my work on Accredible (MOOC certificates you make yourself, credible enough to put on your CV by embedding a portfolio of work onto them – My personal take is that, whilst colleges may not be willing to give credit to MOOC students, employers may start to, and that has some really interesting implications. People may be able to keep learning university-quality content after they have graduated, essentially continuing their education for free instead of studying towards a masters degree. Depending on your intentions and inclinations as a student, that could be a wonderful thing!