MOOC students to be identified with webcams

With thousands of miles and computer screens separating some massive open online course (MOOC) students from their instructors, it’s not always easy to tell if students are who they say they are.

edX will experiment with webcam monitoring.

When the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and edX roll out new MOOC completion certificates to accompany more involved and time consuming courses next fall, they want to make sure students who are receiving certificates are the ones who did all the work – and they’re looking toward webcams to make this happen.

“This is all an experiment,” said Steve Carson, external relations director at MIT OpenCourseWare. “We’re trying different things and looking at what learners are interested in– what kinds of certificates do they want, what kinds of programs are they pursuing.”

Read more about online test and course monitoring…
Top 3 solutions to online cheating

Online education has for years faced questions of legitimacy as colleges and universities search for ways to ensure the validity of students’ work. From keystroke software to programs that shut down students’ web browsers during exams, online educators have fought cheating in myriad ways.

Webcams are becoming an increasingly popular solution.

The certificates will be available for completing MITx’s “XSeries” sequences. Every sequence will contain content from two to four traditional courses and take between six months and two years to complete.

The sequences will comprise of short modules that may pull from a existing courses, but have no face-to-face equivalent on campus, Carson said.

See Page 2 for details on the new verification process.

The two initial courses are Foundations of Computer Science, and Supply Chain and Logistics Management. The sequences will start this fall and in fall 2014, respectively.

“This is really a curriculum that’s being created for the MOOC itself,” Carson said. “So there’s not a one-to-one equivalent. Almost all the MOOCs you see are taking the 14 week courses you get on campus and just replicating that. These are breaking the material down into subject content rather than the artificial constructs of the semester time-frame.”

Beginning in the spring, students taking the courses have the option of paying for the new verification process when they want to earn a certificate. The process will use webcam photographs to confirm a student’s identity.

The nonprofit MOOC platform edX is testing out the ID verification process this fall with three standalone MOOCs at MIT and Berkeley.

The school said the exact price will be announced at a later date, but the certificates will likely cost a few hundred dollars. Students taking the sequences can still choose the free “Honor Code Certificate of Achievement,” as well.

While the extra level of verification provided by the webcams increases the price tag and adds a new layer of authenticity to the certificates, the MOOCs can still not be taken for actual credit.

“We’re hoping to understand more about the credentials that learners value,” said Chris Caplice, who is one of the faculty members developing the management course. “We hope that learners and employers will ultimately find the Supply Chain and Logistics Management XSeries certificate to be valuable in signaling meaningful professional development, but we are in the early stages of exploring these kinds of programs.”

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