Coursera, an online learning company offering free massive open online courses ( MOOCs), is adding a dozen major reasearch universities to its existing group of Michigan, Princeton, Stanford and the University of Pennsylvania.
Now, the partners will include the California Institute of Technology; Duke University; the Georgia Institute of Technology; Johns Hopkins University; Rice University; the University of California, San Francisco; the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; the University of Washington; and the University of Virginia, where the debate over online education was cited in last’s month’s ousting — quickly overturned — of its president, Teresa A. Sullivan. Foreign partners include the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, the University of Toronto and EPF Lausanne, a technical university in Switzerland.
And some of them will offer credit.
Schools feel pressured to participate.
“This is the tsunami,” said Richard A. DeMillo, the director of the Center for 21st Century Universities at Georgia Tech. “It’s all so new that everyone’s feeling their way around, but the potential upside for this experiment is so big that it’s hard for me to imagine any large research university that wouldn’t want to be involved.”
It is still experimental and unproven.
But even Mr. Thrun, a master of MOOCs, cautioned that for all their promise, the courses are still experimental. “I think we are rushing this a little bit,” he said. “I haven’t seen a single study showing that online learning is as good as other learning.”
The University of Washington, ranked 42 on US News list of national universities, will offer credit.
So far, MOOCs have offered no credit, just a “statement of accomplishment” and a grade. But the University of Washington said it planned to offer credit for its Coursera offerings this fall, and other online ventures are also moving in that direction. David P. Szatmary, the university’s vice provost, said that to earn credit, students would probably have to pay a fee, do extra assignments and work with an instructor.
Most MOOC students are from overseas, but if more top universities began to offer course credits toward a degree more U.S. students may become interested. Online cheating and grading are among the thorny issues.
An alternative to a traditional college degree for some?
“There’s talk about how online education’s going to wipe out universities, but a lot of what we do on campus is help people transition from 18 to 22, and that is a complicated thing,” said Mr. Page, the Michigan professor, adding that MOOCs would be most helpful to “people 22 to 102, international students and smart retired people.”
Eventually, Ms. Koller said, students may be able to enroll in a set of MOOCs and emerge with something that would serve almost the same function as a traditional diploma.
“We’re not planning to become a higher-education institution that offers degrees,” she said, “but we are interested in what can be done with these informal types of certification.