Should a school give academic credit toward its own degree(s) to students who successfully complete MOOCs? It might seem that to do so is a way for a school to broaden its academic offerings and improve the quality of its online courses. For a school to give credit to students for a few MOOCs might seem a good idea.
But a school is likely to want to limit academic credit given for MOOCs or it risks having too few proprietary elements to its own degree. There are schools that give their own degrees for courses completed elsewhere or for demonstrated competence – often earned in courses given at other schools or online (eg: Charter Oak in Connecticut), but this is not a feasible option for most schools. Further, a school which grants credit for MOOCs loses revenue for courses it provides itself.
To the extent that a MOOC, for example, excludes an instructor from the college offering credit for the MOOC, then the MOOC is excluding the college from adding value in the course for the student. The student is then entitled to ask what he or she is receiving for the tuition and fees paid to the college or university.
It seems that a school should grant degree credit to a student for only a few MOOCs that she or he successfully completes. But even this approach has problems. If a school is prepared to grant to a student degree credit for three MOOCs which the student successfully completes, the student is likely to ask, why not for four or five or more MOOCs which the student successfully completes? Why is the number of MOOCs for which degree credit is given limited to three? The limitation seems arbitrary, and may be so. Further, the student may wonder why he or she must be required by the school to take the school’s courses when the student prefers to take more MOOCs? It appears that in establishing an arbitrary limit to the number of MOOCs for which a student will be given degree credit a school implies that it offers little of significance in its own right – that it provides little value in either content or teaching.
Schools which grant degree credit to students for completing MOOCs also risk criticism directed at the MOOCs generally. For example, recently MOOCs have been criticized as a form of neo-colonialism since MOOCs are taught primarily by instructors from Western countries. Similarly, MOOCs are currently taught mainly by white males and so are subject to criticism from a diversity perspective. Both risks are minimized if a school assigns its own faculty to teach its own students using MOOCs only as sources of online content (the way a traditional textbook is used).
It follows that granting degree credit for MOOCs is likely to be a slippery slope for many schools.
There is much less risk when a faculty member of a school teaches and grades students of the school and uses a MOOC simply as an on-line textbook. That is, when there is an entire class from the school using the MOOC and having an instructor from the school. But this is a very different arrangement than the school granting degree credit for a MOOC taken by one of its students as part of a group of students from all over the place and when the MOOC is taught by a person who is not part of the degree-granting school’s faculty. It would seem that the proper way for most schools to give degree credit to students who take MOOCs is for credit to be given only when the MOOC is used as part of instruction in a class given by an instructor at the university.