2014 Innovators Awards | Profile

Finding a Way to Operationalize Credit for MOOCs

With its Virtual Assessment Center, Kennesaw State University put the technology and processes in place to give MOOC students a clear pathway to credit and potential entry into degree programs.

2014 Campus Technology Innovators Awards

Category: Administrative Systems
Institution: Kennesaw State University
Project: New Learning Models Virtual Assessment Center
Project lead: Elke Leeds, assistant vice president, technology-enhanced learning
Tech vendors/partners:

When the University System of Georgia announced a partnership with Coursera last year, officials at Kennesaw State saw it as an opportunity to give more learners a pathway to higher education as well as drive enrollment for the university. To establish a process that would operationalize credit awards for MOOC participants, in March 2014 KSU created a Virtual Assessment Center (VAC), which processes fee-based portfolio submissions from MOOC students and routes them to departments for evaluation. The university can now offer courses that are open to the public, but also give professionals a clearly defined pathway to credit and potential entry into degree programs.

KSU's initial MOOC offering focused on teacher education. "We felt that if we were going to participate in MOOCs, it had to make sense for us," said Elke Leeds, assistant vice president for technology-enhanced learning and executive director of KSU's Distance Learning Center. "We looked at our strengths. We are the third-largest higher education institution in Georgia and the No. 1 producer of teachers. We have some wonderful centers of excellence and faculty who are truly focused on student learning outcomes and less focused on their own research."

In January 2014, the Bagwell College of Education offered Kennesaw's first MOOC on K-12 Blended and Online Learning. "Both faculty members had experience in rural schools where they didn't have resources for professional development, so they were driven by their passion to deliver high-quality professional development to teachers in rural and urban schools," explained Jim Cope, associate director of the Distance Learning Center.

After a direct marketing campaign aimed at Georgia's K-12 teachers, almost 7,000 people signed up for the course and 38 percent were Georgia teachers. Of those, 1,100 completed the 8-week course and 350 submitted materials for course completion and professional learning unit credits. (Those credits help Georgia teachers meet licensure renewal requirements, Cope explained.)

Of those 350, 18 paid the fee to have their materials evaluated for enrollment in KSU graduate programs. A group of College of Education researchers will track student progress to look at their performance compared to those who enroll traditionally.

Elke Leeds
Project lead Elke Leeds

"We did some break-even analysis for direct and indirect costs, and we found that if four students enrolled in Master's in Education programs, we would hit break-even," Leeds said, taking into account the tuition those students would pay. Accepting MOOC coursework for credit has the potential to save students money, she pointed out: If a student takes one MOOC for free and pays a fee of $250 for the assessment by faculty, that is an 81.5 percent discount on the tuition cost for the same course in a degree program.

Leeds and Cope tried to research how other universities approached giving credit for MOOC completion. "You read about institutions that are offering MOOCs for credit, but it is hard to drill down and find out exactly how they are handling evaluations," Leeds said.

First they had to make sure the MOOC courses would meet the standards of accrediting agencies. "The learning outcomes and course objectives were aligned with our credit-hour courses, so that evaluations and assessment instruments were the same," Leeds said. "As long as that could be documented, we were assured these courses would meet our accreditation like any prior learning assessment would."

Because she has an information systems background, Leeds sensed that a strong systems approach would be a key to success. "We needed a turnkey solution," she explained. "It has to be clearly communicated to potential students; it has to work with our Banner system; and it has to be seamless. So we built a web application internally."

To develop the software, the team created a business-process flow map of all the various inputs, including admissions, enrollment and the faculty. "The IT services group was amazing in creating this for us in a very short time frame," Leeds said, a process that included many late nights with pizza. One of the most challenging tasks was making the e-commerce aspect work smoothly with university systems in the few weeks that the IT team had to build the application. To handle payment, the university needed a PCI-compliant interface, with data flowing from internal to external solutions to explore payment options, and an underlying database for recording those interactions, Leeds explained. The team worked with Fifth Third Bank and Vantiv/SlimCD for payment processing.

The Banner integration took lots of custom programming. "We have it coded out, but we haven't enacted it yet," Leeds said.

One specific improvement KSU plans to add, Cope said, is concurrent submission of materials and admission information. "When a student comes into the VAC and submits material for evaluation and pays the fee, the other piece to getting credit is to apply and be admitted to one of our graduate programs," he said. "Currently, you have to go outside the VAC to do that. So we have to look at how we can connect those two systems. If we can do that, it is truly a one-stop solution."

Leeds and Cope were surprised by how many requests they have had to do the College of Education course again next January. "Because it went through its initial iteration, the school districts are seeing the value and want to put cohorts through," Leeds said. KSU also plans to offer a MOOC on cybersecurity next January and the College of the Arts is looking to create something related to music theory.

KSU is evaluating student material only from courses it produces because they are aligned with its degree programs. "But the longer-term plan is to use this vehicle we created as a prior learning assessment clearinghouse," Leeds said, "so that we can work with adult degree completers to look at a myriad of earned credit as long as it meets our degree standards, residency credit hour requirements and aligns with accreditation guidelines."

For more information on the Campus Technology Innovators program, visit the awards site.

About the Author

David Raths is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer focused on information technology. He writes regularly for several IT publications, including Healthcare Informatics and Government Technology.

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