Not Quite an MIT Degree, but It May Still Appeal

Article excerpt

Byline: Justin Pope Associated Press

Think you can hack it at MIT? If so, the world-renowned university is willing to give you a new kind of credential to prove it.

Not a full-fledged diploma thats still a possibility only for the 10,000 or so students admitted to its Cambridge, Mass., campus. But today, MIT is announcing that for the first time it will offer credentials under the name "MITx" to students who complete the online version of certain courses, starting with a pilot program this spring.

"This is not MIT light. This is not an easier version of MIT," said Provost L. Rafael Reif. "An MITx learner, anywhere they are, for them to earn a credential they have to demonstrate mastery of the subject just like an MIT student does."

The announcement comes as elite universities like Stanford, Yale and Carnegie-Mellon are experimenting with how to use the Internet to extend their teaching to a global audience hungering for instruction on platforms like YouTube, Apples iTunes U and others developed by universities themselves. MITs OpenCourseWare has been among the most popular, making course materials such as syllabi, tests and lecture videos from over 2,000 MIT classes available free online. The 10-year-old program has been accessed by more than 100 million people worldwide.

But where elite universities like MIT have mostly stopped short is offering some kind of credential that carries the university name and proves the recipient has mastered the high-caliber curriculum. One concern is that awarding such credentials too readily could dilute the value of the degree earned by students in the universitys highly-selective traditional programs. But MIT officials said while OpenCourseWare has distributed knowledge widely, the lack of a credential keeps many from benefiting.

Many users "want to have piece of paper saying they learned something and maybe that will help them get a job," Reif said.

Now MIT is looking to strike that balance with an extra letter. University officials described "MITx" as a nonprofit entity established inside the university that will offer an "MIT-sanctioned certificate" for completing various courses and, perhaps eventually, degree programs.

How exactly will it work? On a conference call Friday, university officials were short on many details how many courses would eventually be offered, how much it would cost, even the name of the first course for the experiment in spring.

They did say they would focus, at least initially, on science and engineering, where assessment is fairly objective and easily scaled up. Users might include a high school senior who wants to take an early freshman class at MIT, or college students at overseas universities where a particular course isnt offered, explained Anant Agarwal, an electrical engineering and computer science professor who is helping lead the initiative. …