10 state universities join Coursera in deals that could grant credit for MOOCs

SUNY and the University of Kentucky are among the new Coursera partner schools.

In a departure from its collaborations with more elite institutions like Stanford and Princeton, massive open online course (MOOC) provider Coursera announced Thursday that it was partnering with 10 state university systems and public flagship institutions.

The deals have the potential to transform Coursera’s content from the free online courses the company is known for to courses that could actually carry college credit.

“With this announcement, we take a step further in our goal to expand quality education to all,” Andrew Ng, co-founder of Coursera, stated in the announcement.

The universities involved in the new partnerships are State University of New York (SUNY), the Tennessee Board of Regents and University of Tennessee systems, the University of Colorado system, the University of Houston system, University of Kentucky, University of Nebraska, University of New Mexico, the university system of Georgia, and West Virginia University.

While the exact details of each deal differ depending on the institution, the central goal of the arrangements are similar.

“At the core of these partnerships is the motivation to encourage new methods and enhance previous approaches to teaching both on-campus and online,” Coursera stated. “Faculty teaching at these institutions will have the opportunity to develop online courses as well as adapt existing MOOC content, which they can then incorporate into their own classrooms.”

The partnerships would also allow universities to reach out to high school students with their courses, and easily share data and course materials across an entire system in ways similar to learning management systems.

See Page 2 for how students could earn college credit for MOOC courses.

More dramatically, the collaborations open up the possibility of the institutions offering for-credit MOOCs to students who want to continue their education but who do not have the means or access to a campus.

In many regards, this has been the underlying premise – and promise – of companies like Coursera since their conception. But with few institutions offering actual college credit for students who take the online courses, such a goal has remained out of reach. Under a system where a degree remains the primary marker of higher learning, course credit is still the currency of the land.

A recent study released by the University of Edinburgh found that the majority of students taking its six Coursera MOOCs  were taking the courses to “learn new things,” not  to earn any kind of degree or certification. Furthermore, 70 percent of respondents indicated having already completed a degree program and 40 percent indicated they had earned a postgraduate degree.

Learning may be taking place, but not necessarily the kind that would empower people to “improve their lives, the lives of their families, and the communities they live in,” as Coursera states on its website.

If the universities involved in the new deals take advantage of the deals in the way that Coursera outlines, there could be a marked shift in who completes MOOCs and how they are used, and accredited, in higher education.  At the same time, there is no guarantee any of these university systems will adopt the courses for credit, as the decision is left to their discretion.

“We think the coming decade will see a transformation in the way education is delivered, where teachers and online content come together to better serve students on campus and beyond,” said Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller.

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