But the new certificates reflect a craving for academic legitimacy among legions of learners worldwide who in the past year have begun participating in the emerging market of “massive open online courses,” or MOOCs. As major universities across the country dive into free online education, it is unclear how they, or the Web platforms that host the MOOCs, are going to reap revenue.
Offering such credentials might be an answer.
For less than $100, a student who takes a class in genetics and evolution from Duke University on a MOOC platform called Coursera — and agrees to submit to identity-verification screening — could earn a “verified certificate” for passing the course, under an initiative to be announced Wednesday.
For $95, a student in an online circuits and electronics class affiliated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology through the MOOC platform edX will be able to take a proctored exam this month at one of thousands of test sites around the world and earn a certificate. Proctored exams are also being given for users of a MOOC platform called Udacity.
The security measures suggest that people sometimes cheat in MOOCs, even when there are no course credits or money at stake.
Despite the new optional fees, the providers say they will preserve the core principle that the courses are open to anyone, free of charge. The lure of no-cost education from elite universities has drawn hundreds of thousands of users to each site since last spring. But some users apparently want more from MOOCs than knowledge for its own sake.
Until now, Coursera has offered students only a simple “statement of completion” when they pass a class. But starting with the Duke course, two classes on nutrition and clinical problem-solving from the University of California at San Francisco, and two others from Georgia Tech and the University of Illinois, students will be able to pursue a verified certificate that carries the university’s logo.
Daphne Koller, a Stanford University computer scientist and a co-founder of Coursera, called it a “much more meaningful and valuable credential that they can use in their professional life or for their own personal reward.”
To qualify for a certificate, Koller said, a student would pay a fee expected to range from $30 to $100. The student would submit, via Webcam, a picture of herself and her photo identification. During the course, samples of the student’s keystrokes would be checked as assignments are filed and tests taken. Koller said the patterns of those keystrokes amount to a biometric identifier — akin to a handwriting sample — enabling Coursera to verify the user.