Massive online classes should not receive accreditation

By Editorial Board

The new buzzword in education is MOOC, which stands for Massive Open Online Course. MOOCs are free college-level courses, some of which are offered in partnership with big-name universities like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard, available to anyone willing to put in the work. Currently, these classes cannot be taken for credit, but one MOOC provider, edX, is now offering on-site, supervised exams. This has some schools, including Colorado State University’s online division,

Global Campus, considering accepting transfer credits from MOOCs.

The problem with accrediting these courses lies in the assumption that college courses simply provide a collection of information. But a college education is important because of the interaction and face time students have with their instructors. A small class size is imperative to true learning. Some MOOCs have thousands of students. The average class size at Columbia is less than 20. Although this is small for most colleges, class sizes in the thousands are extremely large compared to any typical institution. Established online colleges with smaller class sizes, though they often fall below traditional standards of education, don’t present the same problem that MOOCs do because of

their size.

Cheating is much harder to catch online, especially when a course has thousands of students. The first MOOC, an artificial intelligence course taught by Stanford professor Sebastian Thrun in fall 2011, had 160,000 students. Because these classes are free and there is no penalty for dropping out, many MOOCs don’t graduate everyone who is enrolled. Most classes are smaller than 160,000, but are still massive compared to brick-and-mortar colleges.

It is unlikely that a professor running a class of thousands, or even hundreds, of students could provide the attention necessary to ensure students are doing their coursework. It would be hard for a teacher in any online setting to keep students from cutting corners.

MOOCs present a disturbing trend in higher education. Institutions that lack the resources to hold their students to a high standard devalue the prestige of a college degree. Free classes sound enticing, but the lack of tuition is at the expense of necessary resources. The trend should be toward more time in the classroom, not less.

Teachers are a college’s most valuable asset. Online classes with thousands of students practiccally remove the teacher from the equation and basically amount to independent study.

Receiving actual college credit for MOOCs is still the exception rather than the rule, but their slow march toward accreditation is troubling. College should be affordable and accessible, not free and easy.  MOOCs currently lack the standards required for a worthwhile educational experience. Higher education is getting too expensive, but free or cheap online classes need serious changes before they can be considered

a viable solution.

The Internet is a great resource for information and may someday be a platform for higher education, but MOOCs are a step in the wrong direction. The Internet has always been open and free, and MOOC providers have tried to adhere to that philosophy. Instead of bending education to fit the Internet, colleges need to use the Internet to fit quality education.