MOOCs could be a sea change

The arrival of massive open online courses, or MOOCs, has generated a lot of scholarly talk about whether it’s the death knell of the modern university, or at least its ability to educate a large share of the population, The Register-Guard reports.

Some say universities now face the same disruptions that online technology brought to the music industry, book publishing or newspapers.

“There’s no doubt that change is a-coming,” said Kevin Ahern, who teaches biochemistry online at Oregon State University.

Today, MOOCs are available in every subject — from modern poetry to aerodynamics to drinking-­water treatment — and from elite institutions, including Harvard University, Kyoto University and the University of California, Berkeley.

But today, despite some experiments, online students generally can’t get college credit for the courses they complete. The revolution will happen when some universities figure out how to grant credit for the MOOCs that students have taken. Some are experimenting with doing so already.

University of Oregon President Michael Gottfredson said universities already accept credit from other institutions through course articulation, a process that measures an outside course against a university’s own course requirements.

Giving credit for online courses is “truly no different,” Gottfredson said. “It’s a question of authenticating and articulating their course as satisfying the requirements.”

Universities nationally may have to put major part of their offerings online because lawmakers are demanding the do so as a strategy to curb tuition increases.

The ideal is that once a course is recorded and posted, thousands of additional students can take it at minimal cost — without the need for building additional classrooms for example — although university faculty and administrators say cost savings may not materialize.

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