Maryland college offering credit for massive open online courses

The University of Maryland University College expects to be among the first wave of schools this academic year awarding transfer credit to those who have taken — and can prove they learned from — certain “massive open online courses,” known as MOOCs, the Baltimore Sun reports.

The school, which targets working adults with its own online classes, and six others nationwide have agreed to track student progress as part of a research study gauging how well the MOOCs, which are relatively new to the education world, prepared the transfers for a more traditional learning experience.

It’s all part of a broader effort to get beyond the hype surrounding MOOCs to determine whether the classes have the potential, as some have said, to transform higher education in the same way the Internet revolutionized publishing, retailing and journalism.

The hope is that they’ll provide alternative — and less expensive — means to get a degree. A three-credit course might cost several thousand dollars at a traditional university, while the same class offered as a MOOC would likely be under $200.

Still, some worry that the classes, which are usually free, can never provide the same quality of education or variety of experience that a bricks-and-mortar school offers.

UMUC has agreed to grant credit for six courses that closely match its own introductory offerings. But to get the credit, students will have to prove that they know the material. That can be done one of two ways: by taking a paid version of the course for $150 or less, which includes proctored exams, or by going through a rigorous “prior learning assessment” process at UMUC, which measures competency in a topic. No students have signed on yet.

“I don’t want anybody to think we’re giving away credit,” said Marie Cini, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at UMUC.

A college education has never been more important for socioeconomic success or more expensive, President Barack Obama said last month in announcing his plans for education reform, which include a challenge for schools to come up with less expensive ways to deliver an excellent education.

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