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Communications of the ACM


In the Year of Disruptive Education

Peter Norvig and Sebastian Thrun

Peter Norvig (left) and Sebastian Thrun's "Introduction to Artificial Intelligence" class is often considered the tipping point for the popularity of massive open online courses.

Credit: Noah Berger / The New York Times / Redux

As college tuitions soar, various online models vie to educate college students worldwide — at no cost.

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CACM Administrator

The following letter was published in the Letters to the Editor in the March 2013 CACM (
--CACM Administrator

In the news story "In the Year of Disruptive Education" (Dec. 2012), Paul Hyman explored the challenge of how to award college credit for learning gained from free online courses offered by colleges and universities. The solution may emerge in two ways:

Credit by examination (CBE). Despite already being offered by many colleges as a way to give credit for knowledge, CBE also has a downsidethat students typically pay the same amount of tuition as if they were taking the course and that some schools limit the awarding of credit to those students who complete some period of residency at the school; and

Government-sponsored course recognition. Like many states, Ohio has developed pseudo-course designations, called Career-Technical Assurance Guides, or CTAGs. A CTAG identifies the core content of individual courses commonly offered at colleges, technical schools, and secondary schools; private and public colleges in Ohio can choose to tie one of their courses to a CTAG "virtual" course, in which case students earning credit for a tagged course at one institution carry that credit to all colleges with a similar tagged course.

It may be that states or even countries will develop CBE for virtual courses, and colleges that tag their courses will award college credit regardless of how a student gains proficiency. A college willing to reduce the cost of CBE and waive residency requirements could unilaterally implement it. Governments are usually motivated more than the colleges themselves to offer CBE at the lowest cost possible.

Christine Wolfe
Lancaster, OH

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