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Credits for MOOCs?

credits-for-moocs

This year’s EdX Global Forum (8-10 November in Washington DC) was all about MOOCs and credits. No surprise, as we increasingly receive questions from teachers (“Can I use this my colleague’s MOOC in my course?”) and students (“Can I take this MOOC from university X for credit in my regular campus programme?”). But is was also on the conference agenda because we put it there. TU Delft prepared a discussion document together with ANU in Australia: should we include MOOCs in our campus programmes and if so, how do we do this?

During the conference there was a feeling among quite a few participants that giving credits for MOOCs will happen anyway. It has advantages for our students (access to a vast portfolio of interesting courses), teaching staff (enhance the curriculum and share quality education) and universities (sharing and using each other’s expertise and offering that to our own students). But there are many issues to be solved before we can recognise each other’s MOOCs. Most universities don’t accept their own MOOCs in their campus programmes, let alone those of other universities. What are the problems?

Not all MOOCs are suitable
In the past few years MOOCs have been made for a number of reasons and for different audiences. Quite a number are introductory MOOCs or MOOCs for secondary school students. Obviously, these are not suitable parts of regular university programmes. Also, whereas some programmes have quite some space for electives or courses -so perhaps also MOOCs- taken from other universities, other programmes are more strict.

Global credit system?
Interoperability and a global standard neededThere are numerous models for the way in which a curriculum is structured: which entry level is required, which place does a course have in the curriculum (first year, second ..), how long and which level is it, to name a few. These models vary per continent, country, region and often even within a university. This makes it hard to judge if a particular MOOC fits into a regular programme. Some countries, e.g. Australia, and regions, e.g. the EU with its ECTS, already have experience with a credit transfer system. A next step could be to map these models and see if a global credit system can be developed.

Financial systems
Universities worldwide are financed in different ways. Some rely mostly on government funding for their education, others need to cover the cost of education 100% with tuition fees. Some receive a large part of their budget as a lump-sum funding, others are funded per students or per graduated student. All universities have to cover their expenses. MOOC producing universities have invested in their online and MOOC programme. A system of mutual recognition of MOOCs may affect universities in different ways.

Our campus population
The decision on which course can be included in a particular programme often does not lie with the Board, but with the course director, dean, or examination board. So that is also the case for the decision on if and how a MOOC can be included.

Even more important is this: for our staff to accept such a new step one point will be vital and that is quality. Our teachers and programme directors will only consider integrating a MOOC in a regular programme if it is of top quality and produced by a reliable university they know and have worked with before.

The funny thing is that most of these points are not new.
We already have many students in exchange programmes, TU Delft students taking courses at UBC Vancouver, or ANU students at TU Delft. We already experience the difficulties in transferring credits between universities. But recognising MOOCs means that we are potentially talking about large numbers of students. A good reason to solve this now for MOOCs and with a bit of luck, we may also solve the problems that campus exchange students have.

So what is next?
Credits for MOOCs is a difficult issue with many facets. We have to study these thoroughly and perhaps try out some small pilots as a next careful step. A group of universities, including TU Delft and ANU, present at the conference have set up a working group to discuss exactly this: how can we give credits to MOOCs, make use of each other MOOCs and open up a global portfolio to all our students?

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