Srividya Murthy: Why online courses should be offered for credit

Clarification appended

The University is making moves toward launching its first set of massive open online courses, which have gained steam in higher education for freely offering lessons from top professors. But if GW is going to compete in the online forum, it is going to have to find a way to distinguish itself among a crowded pool of elite universities.

When it comes to online courses, universities like Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have already begun to experiment and build classes in technology, the humanities and the social sciences.

While colleges that have experimented with these large-scale online courses haven’t yet offered them for credit, some have provided certificates upon completion of the courses. As GW begins the process of establishing online courses, University officials should consider offering these classes for credit, similar to how incoming students can use Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate credits.

Due to a decline in state funding, some universities like Arizona State University and the University of Cincinnati are considering offering these online courses for credit to raise revenue and attract more students, according to a Jan. 23 New York Times article.

And while GW is not a state school, it could benefit from being one of the first institutions to offer massive open online courses for credit.

Of course, it shouldn’t be possible to earn a GW degree online through MOOCs alone. There would have to be a limit to the number of classes a student could take and still receive credit. But like AP courses, which many high school students take for college credit, online courses would allow students to tackle college curricula before they’ve actually enrolled at GW or any university.

The courses would merely provide the students a taste of what it’s like to take a class at GW. If students did choose to come to the University, they would be ahead of their course requirements before arriving on campus – just like if they took AP courses.

With competition from top universities, every institution is trying to carve out its own niche.

If GW is going to make any kind of splash in the world of online learning, it is going to have to be bold and offer students options that few other institutions can provide.

Srividya Murthy is a freshman in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences.

This column was clarified Jan. 28, 2013 to reflect the following:
A previous version of this column stated that GW could become one of the only institutions to offer online courses for credit. The column also stated that GW should not offer online degrees. In both instances, the column was referring to credit and online degrees via exclusively massive open online courses. GW already offers online courses for credit, as well as online degrees.

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