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From the Daily: Online learning, to a degree

BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Published March 18, 2013

On Wednesday, California state senators proposed a new bill that requires the state's 145 public colleges and universities to grant credit for completing massive open online courses, called MOOCs. The preposed mandate on online credit reflects a necessary shift in higher education, allowing for easy and affordable access to courses for many students. This legislation will propel the conversation about online courses forward, and with any luck should prompt other states to adopt similar policies. Michigan should consider similar legislation to ensure that students who pass MOOCs, such as Udacity and Coursera, obtain credit toward their degree.

The bill would create a system in which students can access courses virtually and receive credit at the University of California, California State University and California Community College campuses. A nine-member faculty council, composed of three faculty members selected by each system’s Academic Senate, would decide which courses can be taken for credit. They'll also decide logistics such as prerequisites, instructional support and textbook accessibility. The bill will help allow students to bypass California’s overcrowded classrooms and lower the price tag attached to a college education by giving credit for MOOCs, which are often free to take.

This mandate propels the future of MOOCs and other online education resources as a legitimate option in higher education. Taught by professors at top universities, these online classes allow for more flexibility and options for affordable instruction. Furthermore, these courses allow students to enroll in inexpensive classes over the summer — an attractive option for those looking to lighten their load during the school year or are ineligible for financial aid over the spring and summer terms. Currently, MOOCs don’t necessarily offer any credit incentive, but a bill that requires universities and colleges to grant credit would ensure that students’ effort helps them toward a degree instead of just for knowledge’s sake. The bill also offers content from the California Digital Open Source Library, where students can obtain free or cheap textbooks.

However, there are certain guidelines that need to be considered when granting college credit. When receiving credit for online courses, there should be a set credit limit a student can transfer. This system would be similar to when a student wants to transfer credit from a community college or four-year university to another school. Additionally, the bill does create a faculty council that decides which courses that are a part of the system, and they should that ensure well-qualified professors from accredited universities and colleges teach the courses.

Not only do MOOCs and other online education tools allow easier access and affordability, but they also give students more time to take advantage of a liberal arts education. Students using MOOCs for required courses would have time to explore other interests. California’s legislature has actualized the conversation about MOOCs and various other online tools, and now it’s time for Michigan to start moving toward the future of online learning as well.


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