Coursera will have more than 100 courses in 2013.

The University of Washington (UW), unlike the 11 other universities that pledged this month to host classes in Coursera’s Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) platform, will offer credit to anyone who completes the open course. That, however, won’t be free.

UW officials, since the school’s Coursera partnership was announced July 17, have touted the university’s decision to offer course credit, while other schools will give certificates to people who complete their Cousera classes.

New details have emerged about UW’s Coursera classes, outlining three options for anyone with an internet connection and a desire to learn. There will be free courses, certificate courses, and “enhanced” courses led by instructors. The last option will likely be offered at the same rate as other UW online classes, about $350 added onto tuition costs.

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UW’s credit-bearing Coursera offerings – expected to be available during the 2012-13 academic year — will include applied mathematics program in scientific computing computer science courses, some focusing on programming. UW currently offers 17 online graduate master’s degrees online, along with 38 online certificate programs in a laundry list of career fields.

But before the school’s Coursera course selections are mistaken for free college classes, UW administrators want online learners to know that taking the credit-bearing classes does not lead to admittance.

David Szatmary, vice provost of UW’s educational outreach, said UW is making its course content available for credit on Coursera because campus decision makers and professors are comfortable with the shift toward web-based learning, and don’t see MOOCs as a usurper of higher education’s status quo.

“If an anxiety exists, it’s because it’s new and it’s untested and all of the elements and possibilities haven’t come out yet,” Szatmary said of Courera and similar MOOC sites, like edX and the Khan Academy. “It’s just anxiety over something that’s new and unfamiliar. And as these MOOCs go forward, I think they will be part of the higher education landscape, but it’s not going to replace undergraduate education or a master’s degree education.”

Having more than one option for Cousera classes, Szatmary said, would broaden UW’s online audience.

“It was a question of how do we work with Coursera to create something that that student will really want,” he said. “Of the many people who take these kind of courses, most will want the free course experience, and some people will want more focused information in these courses.”

Coursera, a for-profit educational technology company launched by two former Stanford University computer science professors, has 43 college courses to more than 680,000 people worldwide. The site could have more than 100 classes by January, according to a company announcement.

Tony Bates, an eLearning consultant who has tracked the rise of MOOCs, said the role of free courses in higher education is murky at best.

He pointed to MOOCs’ 10 percent course completion rate, and said it isn’t clear what percentage of online learners can pass a class’s final exam without studying any of the course curriculum.

Until more is known about the effectiveness of MOOC-based learning, colleges and universities are unlikely to follow UW’s approach.

“This is not to deny the value of MOOCs, particularly in putting pressure on existing institutions to change, but there is much room for improvement,” Bates wrote in a blog post. “We need to look at how we can benefit from both more conventional online learning and from MOOCss, not set one off against the other.”


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