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“Free” Web Classes for Credit?

Nearly 2 million students could be a step closer to getting credit for their work in free, online classes, under an agreement announced Tuesday.

Computers
Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media

Mountain View, Calif.-based Coursera — an online platform for about 200 classes from 34 universities such as Princeton, Duke and Stanford — said the American Council on Education would begin evaluating about five Coursera classes initially for possible credit recommendations, and the number could grow. It would still be up to individual universities whether to grant credit to students who complete such classes, but a stamp of approval from ACE would likely go a long way toward persuading at least some U.S. institutions to do so.

ACE, which has a long history of evaluating various kinds of courses on behalf of universities, said the credit evaluation would be part of a broader effort financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to study so-called “Massive Online Open Courses” — MOOCs — and “answer questions about the disruptive potential of this new and innovative approach to higher education.”

To meet ACE requirements and ensure credit-seeking students are who they say they are, Coursera also said it would begin offering identity-verified and proctored online exams using webcams. And while taking the classes is free, students will also have to pay a yet-to-be-determined “modest fee” to qualify for the credit recommendation.

Coursera, founded by two Stanford University professors, is one of several high-profile efforts in which consortia of leading universities are making available online some of their best and most popular teaching. But only a small percentage of students who sign up for such classes are completing the coursework.

That’s partly because many students just want to learn and aren’t pursuing a degree or credential. But for those who do, there have been virtually no avenues for getting transferable credit from the MOOC courses. So far, that’s limited any potential for the MOOC movement to make higher education credentials more accessible and affordable.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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