The following interview is with Jennifer Stephens Helm, vice president and dean of institutional research and assessment at the American Public University System. APUS recently announced that they would offer academic credit to students who complete any of 10 Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), offered through Coursera and Udacity. In this interview Stephens Helm provides some insight into why APUS decided to go down the road of accepting MOOCs for credit, and shares her thoughts on what the institution will need to do to ensure the project is more successful than past attempts at other institutions.
1. Why did American Public University System decide to grant credit for the completion of MOOCs?
Since last year we have been following ACE, the American Council on Education, in their initiative to evaluate MOOCs for college credit. … We wanted to explore how this new learning model could really contribute to student learning, student success … so when ACE made the decision to recommend a small number of MOOCs for college credit, we made the decision to accept the credits at APUS that had been evaluated by ACE.
Now as we made the decision and really followed the progress closely, we also had an opportunity to participate in a project with the UPCEA — that’s the University Professional and Continuing Education Association — to evaluate the outcomes of students that transfer in ACE-recommended MOOCs. … This was formed to really determine how students succeed at higher education institutions after receiving credit for a MOOC.
2. Will there be a process students must go through to earn the credit? For example, showing a certificate of completion or taking an examination?
For students to earn academic credit for a MOOC, they will have to be certified by the MOOC provider. They will go through a series of student-verification techniques such as webcam identification, typing pattern recognition, and these are offered by the MOOC providers. Additionally students will be required to complete an online proctored exam; this is at the end of the course to really demonstrate proficiency of the course work. This is also a service offered by the MOOC provider.
Students who successfully complete the requirements will request a transcript with credit recommendations from ACE. Students can then present the transcript to APUS for acceptance of credit and our transfer credit team has really worked to match the courses to existing APUS offerings.
3. For the 10 MOOCs that were selected, was it purely the recommendation of ACE that led APUS to choose those MOOCs, or was there something related more to institutional goals?
We picked those 10 because they are MOOCs that have gone through the ACE credit review process. As ACE recommends more MOOCs we will most likely include those as transfer credits that we will accept.
4. Is granting credits for MOOCs indicative of the increasing quality of MOOCs, an increasing recognition of the importance of prior learning, or something else entirely?
It’s definitely a growing recognition of the importance of higher learning. CAEL, the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, they’ve been a great advocate of this for many years. As an institution that primarily works with adult learners, we’re very cognizant of the fact that students learn in many different ways and in many different environments, and that some of this learning is college-level.
That assessment piece is really crucial in ensuring that academic credit for the experience represents student learning. When MOOC providers found a way to verify the identity of students into proctored exams — so that students can demonstrate proficiency — that’s when folks really began to explore and consider MOOCs as an option for academic credit. …
I think with the growing cost of higher education, the evolving needs of employers, the globalization of our economy, I think it’s also a growing recognition that students can learn in many ways. For our students to thrive and succeed in today’s diverse and global society, I think it’s up to us as educators to really ensure that they are prepared to meet the demands of employers and society. If we can prepare them for success without bogging them down with all kinds of student loans, student debt — really things that do not help them for their entry into the workforce — I think this will greatly increase their likelihood for success.
5. In the few cases where institutions have looked to grant credit for MOOCs, at the University of Colorado Global Campus for example, students have been unresponsive. Why do you think that is the case, and how does APUS expect to overcome the engagement obstacle?
This is a great point and this is also been something that we have encountered. I think, while it’s great that some schools are beginning to accept ACE recommended MOOC credit, this acceptance of credit is very unlikely to gain much traction if the students aren’t aware of the opportunities that exist.
In our conversations with participating schools — as part of the UPCEA pilot initiative that we’re a part of — we’re having great conversations about opportunities that exist to target and market to these students to really ensure that they are aware of the current opportunities that exist for them.
We recognize that while MOOCs are intended to attract underserved populations by offering free and otherwise highly-accessible courses, some of the challenges have been in actually reaching these audiences. So, we’re working to address these issues — top leaders from the participating institutions — we’re really putting our heads together on how we can ensure that students are informed of these educational opportunities.
6. Is there anything you’d like to add about this growing recognition of MOOCs as being credit-worthy and what it’s going to take for this movement to gain more traction in the higher ed space?
I go back to the growing cost of higher education, the evolving needs of employers and the globalization of our economy. I think it’s very important as educators that we explore these types of learning opportunities for our students; the low rate of degree completion and the high burden of college debt across the nation, it’s very worrisome. It’s very worrisome and it’s exciting that we are able to experiment with new ways of using these types of courses to extend our educational reach and address some of these worries that folks face.
By providing credit for students who would not otherwise have access to faculty at top-tier institutions, I think this creates great opportunities for students as we really work to open and enrich the educational offerings available to them.
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- In order to simplify the process, APUS is relying on the MOOC providers’ verification processes to ensure students are worthy of academic credits.
- Better-marketing the MOOC-for-credit program will ensure that students are aware of the opportunity to earn academic credits upon completing those MOOCs.
- Granting credit for MOOCs is indicative of the growing recognition of prior learning’s value as well as a recognition that students can learn outside of the highly-formal postsecondary setting.
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