These days, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are discussed widely. They are a success story and they are criticized. The aspect of “massive” leads to audiences of several thousand students, the aspect of “open” suggests that no tuition has to be paid for attending these courses. The rest, i.e., “online courses”, is a rather old concept.
The development of online courses was one of the key factors of “E-Learning”. Roughly ten years ago, a lot of tax payers’ money went into such projects. Online courses were developed to suit the needs of growing student numbers and to make use of the Internet for teaching (“learn anything, anywhere, anytime”). Students could attend these courses as a replacement for traditional face-to-face lectures. For example MiLCA was supposed to facilitate learning computational linguistics. It was developed at the University of Tübingen and some students from the University of Zurich successfully completed the course as part of their studies in Zurich. However, this was pre-Bologna, i.e., for most of the courses during your studies, there were no formal exams.
Some of these courses are still in use and some universities extend these courses into MOOCs, like the University of Marburg. They aim to make these courses count towards a BA or MA degree, which means you can earn credit points.
And here the problems start: To earn credits towards your degree, the attended course has to fit the concept of your study program. As I wrote last week, the concept of what a module is, differs from university to university. There might be certain requirements for successfully completing a module like compulsory attendance or an oral exam. How does that fit into the concept of an online course? Can a certificate stating completing the online course on phonetics from University of Marburg be used as a replacement for the phonetics course at the University of Konstanz? Which of the two universities is responsible for quality management? Who can define how many credit a student can earn?
A colleague even told me that some universities already face a rather odd situation: Students collect online course certificates fitting the overall curriculum of a specific study program and thus avoid attending these courses at their home institution — i.e., they avoid rather challenging exams, but they want to be awarded the more prestigious degree of that institution.
So if a university starts to accept certificates from online courses offered by other institutions, they open Pandora’s box.