NOU 2014: 5

MOOCs for Norway— New digital learning methods in higher education

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8 Documentation of competence achieved

8.1 MOOCs with credits and MOOCs as part of degree programmes

Internationally, MOOCs are increasingly accepted by established institutions in line with specialised campus-based studies. There have been a number of examples of this in recent years, particularly in the US. In September 2012, Colorado State University, as the first higher learning institution, accepted the Stanford course Artificial Intelligence taken through Udacity as a credit-earning course.1 In October of the same year, Antioch University entered into a licensing agreement with Coursera in order to use courses from Duke University and the University of Pennsylvania in their curriculum.2

In 2013, the University of Maryland University College (UMUC) has offered credits to those who complete, or who can document that they have learned from, MOOCs.3 In January 2013, Udacity launched a pilot in collaboration with San Jose State University with three MOOCs that would earn the students credits if they finished. While Udacity was responsible for the platform and assistance to the academic staff who taught the course, lectures in the courses were given by professors at the university.4

The American Council on Education (ACE) has entered into a partnership with Udacity where they want to assess MOOCs against credits, and look more closely into how MOOCs can best contribute to the students’ learning. This is one of ACE’s research and evaluation measures toward assessing the academic potential of MOOCs, initiated in November 2012.5 In February 2013, the American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE CREDIT) evaluated five Coursera courses and recommended that they become credit-earning. ACE thus advised its 1 800 academic member institutions that the courses were of such quality that the institutions could award credits to students who had completed them. ACE later recommended awarding credits for four courses from Udacity and one from edX. The institutions themselves decide if they want to follow this recommendation.6

In May 2013, Udacity announced that they would partner with the telecommunications company AT&T and Georgia Institute of Technology to offer the first MOOC-based master’s degree programme, a master’s in computer science. The degree in computer science from Georgia Institute of Technology is popular among students, and graduates have traditionally been in demand in the labour market. Whereas tuition for the campus-based master’s degree programme amounts to more than USD 40 000, the university now offers a MOOC-based version at USD 7 000 – 80 % cheaper.7

Another example is the new Open Educational Resources University (OERu). This is a partnership consisting of 31 institutions from e.g. the US, Australia and New Zealand that started in November 2013. Students that finish online, free courses through OERu institutions, can pay to have their work assessed as credit-earning. The institutions that have joined the partnership will accept the credits as part of a degree. The director of the New Zealand-based organisation behind the initiative, believes the access to credits will make OERu more attractive than other forms of MOOCs.8

In Chapter 9, the Commission evaluates MOOCs with exams and credits as part of Norwegian higher education.

8.2 US legislation associated with accreditation of MOOCs

In 2013, the state of California initiated a legislative amendment that would obligate universities in the state to give credits for MOOCs delivered by third party providers. The objective was to establish a system where students who have trouble being admitted to certain undergraduate programmes in high demand, could take approved online courses from providers outside the state’s higher education system. A faculty board would be tasked with identifying 50 courses of this type – i.e. courses that most students need to fulfil for further admission, according to the general education requirements. The board would then review which courses ought to be incorporated into the system.9 The amendment is temporarily on hold.10

In the summer of 2013, the Governor of Florida signed a bill which entails that MOOCs, under certain circumstances, can be used to help teach K-12 pupils in four subjects.11 The bill also entails that students will have the opportunity to use MOOCs to take credit-earning courses that will count when they apply for college.12

At the federal level in the US, several US Representatives want to reform the accreditation system in the “Higher Education Act”. The background is a desire to see more innovation in the use of web-based education. Another argument is that federal funding of higher education has not kept up with new approaches to higher education. The Republican Senator Mike Lee has proceeded with a bill that will give state authorities the opportunity to establish their own accreditation systems. States, along with the US Department of Education, will prepare agreements that will trigger federal funding for course providers, including providers other than traditional higher education institutions. The Senator believes it should be possible to achieve accreditation for specialised programmes, individual courses, skills-based tests and hybrid models with both campus and non-campus-based elements.13

Potential legislation will require new funding for higher education, or will come at the expense of existing funding. In the latter case, this will entail redirecting funds from traditional institutions toward a broader scope of providers. Many people are sceptical to the proposal. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) has stated that more competition is good, but urges caution. Among other things, CHEA points out that state-level accreditation as an alternative to the current federal system, may result in authorities rather than academic employees making decisions on e.g. academic content. Senator Mike Lee’s proposal is also only one of many simmering proposals in the debate surrounding potential reform of the “Higher Education Act”. Many people are concerned with promoting emerging forms of web-based education, but most would prefer a less radical direction than what is represented by Senator Lee’s proposal.14

8.3 Other forms of documentation of competence

Significant parts of the market for continuing and further education are based on course certificates for individual courses. Within the IT sector, for example, there is a large market for Microsoft-certified engineers. In recent years, badges have become the most commonly mentioned example of alternative forms of documentation of competence. Badges are web-based manifestations of a skill, interest or ability one has learned.15 The skill or competence may be acquired through a number of different channels. Some examples are online games, MOOCs, courses, participation in networks, interests or involvement. Badges can be made and issued by anyone and can be shared on websites, blogs, online communities, social media, portfolios and CVs.

An ever-increasing number of players now offer various forms of badges. Khan Academy, Coursera and edX offer badges as documentation of completed courses.16 According to WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET), badges are a new way of demonstrating and certifying areas of expertise and knowledge in many different professions and sectors.17 Along with Mozilla, Blackboard Inc. and Sage Road Solutions LLC, WCET launched a MOOC in September 2013 with the topic badges as a new form of professional documentation.18

Through the project “Mozilla Open Badges”, several partners are attempting to establish a joint standard for badges. The standard will make it possible to get certifiable documentation of skills and competencies regardless of where they have been achieved; in school, in society, at work or online.19 The goal is to create new opportunities for students and employees, at the same time as employers are able to identify candidates with the competence required in today’s rapidly changing labour market. According to Mark Surman, Executive Director of Mozilla, the Internet opens up radical new approaches to learning. “Open Badges” are part of this because they allow people to demonstrate their skills anywhere. According to the US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, badges can shift focus from sit-in time to actual achieved knowledge and competence.20 He maintains that in the current technological society, education can and should take place anytime and anywhere, and that we should recognise this competence.

Apart from Mozilla’s Open Badges, several different providers and models have sprung up for digital documentation of skills acquired outside the traditional education institutions. Udacity recently partnered with e.g. Khan Academy and Google to create the Open Education Alliance.21 The objective of the alliance is to match employers with education institutions in order to educate the labour force of tomorrow, as well as provide documentation of these skills. provides the opportunity for people to prepare their own profile with a digital overview of credits achieved from different education institutions, as well as web-based learning resources.22 On one can take web-based tests to document one's skills.23 StraighterLine offers students a subscription service for courses where the course credits can be used with their rapidly increasing number of accredited partner institutions.24 In June 2013, former President Bill Clinton launched, through the Clinton Global Initiative, a “Commitment to Action” to increase the use of “Open Badges”.25

The various digital solutions are now met by parts of the more traditional education system, in that more attention is paid to the skills achieved rather than on completed courses. For the time being, it would seem as if Western Governors University has moved furthest along this road, as they now offer purely skills-based degrees.26

8.4 Verification of identity

If MOOCs are to be credit-earning, the students have to take an examination. The applicable regulations for this examination would then be the same for MOOC students as for ordinary students. Most MOOCs do not take attendance or check the participant's identity, while this is the case for all students admitted to Norwegian higher education. Students have a Feide identity27 or an equivalent local solution that is used along the way and at the digital exam. Formal exams require a connection between the student and the exam, enabling the institution responsible for the exam to verify that a certificate is issued to the right person. MOOCs that do not earn credits do not need a formal connection between the person and the certificate, but the need for acknowledging the skills, exemplified by badges, may require identification of the student. Several course and platform providers are experimenting with various approaches to verifying the students' identity.

In the following we will review cases where Norwegian students have taken foreign MOOCs, and the issues this presents for accreditation at Norwegian institutions. Verification of correct identity is important to the students e.g. when:

  • a Norwegian student wants to incorporate a MOOC taken with a foreign MOOC provider into a degree at a Norwegian education institution

  • a Norwegian person wants to use a MOOC taken with a foreign MOOC provider as part of an Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning in connection with admission to higher education in Norway

  • an institution offers MOOCs that earn credits. Then the institution needs to know that the identity of the student is correct in order to give such accreditation.

  • a person wants to use MOOCs taken with a Norwegian or foreign MOOC provider as part of the documentation of skills when applying for a position.

8.4.1 Identity verification solutions in MOOCs

The MOOC players’ current solutions for ensuring correct identity include several practical approaches, such as:

  • Control mechanisms incorporated in the actual platform. One example of this is Coursera’s “Signature Track”,28 which applies biometric methods (registering the user’s physical behaviour and appearance) to identify the student through a photo (web camera) and text sample (keyboard). Based on this, the course provider verifies that the student’s identity is correct.29

  • Physical exams at the course provider’s institution, as practiced by the German iversity.30 Lübeck University of Applied Sciences and Osnabrück University offer MOOCs on iversity in marketing and computer science. Students who enrol in these courses are able to take ordinary digital school exams by attending and gaining accreditation in the form of ECTS.

  • Monitored physical exams at a test centre (proctoring). This is a service that the platform providers buy and offer as a paid service to the students. One such service is Pearson VUE,31 which is used by e.g. edX and Udacity,32 but there are several such providers of test centre services.

  • Remote monitoring (online proctoring).33 This is also a service that the platform providers buy and offer as a paid service to the students. One company specialising in manual remote monitoring is ProctorU,34 but there are many such services. The student needs a webcam and microphone.

Identity verification in MOOCs is about accrediting the right person for competence achieved. Achieved competence may take many different forms, and different types of exams are therefore used for web-based training. Credits require a verified identity. Identity verification consists of three components: first, a check of the participant’s ID, then a check of the connection between ID and person, and finally an interim check to ensure that it is the same participant the whole time.

Both the ID check and control on the way is unproblematic when the student attends in person on campus or in a test centre. Open exams are governed by policy, not through technical instruments, and the student has to confirm that he or she has not cheated. Online school exams or proctored exams are in frontier stages as regards solutions. In principle, only biometric methods will be used in these cases, but preferably services that require information verified by a trusted third party, and which the student does not want to share. BankID is one example of such services. For BankID to function as a verification method, it is assumed that students who potentially would want to cheat, do not want to share their bank access with others. It is thereby possible to prevent students from letting another person take their exams. Some biometric methods such retina scans and fingerprints, which the student cannot share, also raise some questions related to verification via a trusted third party.

If MOOCs are to be included as credit-earning, an evaluation should be made of exam routines.

8.4.2 Identity verification on campus

The education sector’s normal identity solution is Feide. In connection with school exams, this is complemented by physical attendance in the exam venue or other safety measures such as manual ID check and a daily password per exam assignment.

Today, active work is being carried out in connection with digital exams in the higher education sector, and identity is a part of this work. Today’s solutions are based on exams on campus or home exams, and there are no proctored online exams at the moment. Physical attendance and manual ID check are important parts of exams on campus today.

8.4.3 Identity verification online

Proctored online exams are complicated for several types of assessments, so we are in a frontier stage of solutions at the international level as well. Active testing of solutions for ID check and interim checks are taking place. So far, there are no simple solutions to the connection between ID and the student, and this would depend on the development of both policy and technology. Solutions of the BankID type would for example have to be looked into.

Internationally, log-in solutions for higher education are connected via eduGAIN.35 This ensures better Feide interaction with similar solutions in other countries.

There will also be an evolution of various biometric online methods, which could be worthwhile to follow.36 Biometric methods are already used for identification and access control in many other instances. In the education context, this could e.g. include fingerprints, retina recognition, face pattern recognition, as well as physical signature. One challenge would then be where and how the biometric data on users, such as fingerprints, would be administered. Pertinent questions to be asked are whether data should be managed by the service providers themselves, or stored by a trusted third party, and if so, by which party. Another question is what kind of issues these methods raise in terms of personal information.

8.4.4 Possible identity verification in MOOCs

In summary, the identity of students requiring formal accreditation of MOOCs in Norwegian institutions could be safeguarded in the following manner:

Figure 8.1 Possible identity verification in MOOCs

Figure 8.1 Possible identity verification in MOOCs



Mangan, Katherine (2012) A First for Udacity: a U.S. University Will Accept Transfer Credit for One of Its Courses. Available from: A-First-for-Udacity-Transfer/134162/ (Retrieved: 11 December 2013).


Kolowich, Stewe (2012) MOOCs for Credit. Available from: coursera-strikes-mooc-licensing-deal-antioch-university (Retrieved: 11 December 2013).


Bishop, Tricia (2013) “Maryland college offering credit for massive open online courses”, The Baltimore sun. Available from: bs-md-mooc-20130815_1_moocs-umuc-higher-education (Retrieved: 11 December 2013).


Faine, Paul (2013) As California Goes? Available from: california-looks-moocs-online-push (Retrieved: 11 December 2013).


ACE (2013) ACE to Forge New Ground in MOOC Evaluation and Research Effort. Available from: New-Ground-in-MOOC-Evaluation-and-Research- Effort.aspx (Retrieved: 11 December 2013).


Kolowich, Steve (2013) American Council on Education Recommends 5 MOOCs for Credit. Available from: Education/137155/(Retrieved: 11 December 2013).


Onink, Troy (2013) Georgia tech, Udacity Shock Higher Ed With $7,000 Degree. Available from: georgia-tech-udacity-shock-higher-ed-with-7000-degree/ (Retrieved: 11 December 2013).


Times Higher Education (2013) “MOOC rival puts accreditation ’beef’ on menu”, Times Higher Education 31 October 2013.


The Chronicle of Higher Education (2013) California’s Move Toward MOOCs Sends Shock Waves, but Key Questions Remain Unanswered. Available from: 137903/(Retrieved: 11 December 2013).


Kolowich, Steve (2013) California Puts MOOC Bill on Ice. Available from: wiredcampus/california-puts-mooc-bill-on-ice/45215 (Retrieved: 11 December 2013).


K-12 is used as designation for primary and secondary education in the US.


Inside Higher Ed (2013) ‘Watered Down’ MOOC Bill Becomes Law In Florida. Available from: watered-down-mooc-bill-becomes-law-florida (Retrieved: 11 December 2013).


Baily, Misty (2014) “New Bill Proposes Changes to College Accreditation System”, Education News. Available from: new-bill-proposes-changes-to-the-college-accreditation- system/(Retrieved: 15 May 2014).


Fain, Paul (2013) Time to Change the Rules? Available from: calls-washington-streamlined-regulation-and-emerging- models#ixzz2jNkKUPAQ (Retrieved: 11 December 2013).


OpenBadges (2013). Available from: 11 December 2013).


Khan Academy (2013) Badge types. Available from:; edX (2013) ID Verified Certificates of Achievement. Available from: (Retrieved: 11 December 2013).


Learning Solutions Magazine (2013) MOOC: Badges as New Currency for Credentials. Available from: mooc-badges-as-new-currency-for-credentials (Retrieved: 11 December 2013).


PR Web (2013) WCET to Launch MOOC on “Badges as New Currency for Professional Credentials”. Available from: (Retrieved: 11 December 2013).


OpenBadges (2013). Available from: 11 December 2013).


US Department of Education (2011) Digital Badges for Learning. Available from: speeches/digital-badges-learning (Retrieved: 11 December 2013).


Udacity (2013) The Open Education Alliance. Available from: (Retrieved: 11 December 2013).


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Straighterline (2013). Available from: (Retrieved: 11 December 2013).


Hastac (2013) President Clinton Announces Commitment to Create New Pathways to College and Career Success Through Open Badges. Available from: news/president-clinton-announces-commitment-create- new-pathways-college-and-career-success-through-o (Retrieved: 11 December 2013).


Inside Higher Ed (2013) Beyond the Credit Hour. Available from: 19/feds-give-nudge-competency-based-education; Inside Higher Ed (2012) Competency Based Education May Get Boost. Available from: news/2012/10/01/competency-based-education-may- get-boost (Retrieved: 11 December 2013).


Feide – Felles Elektronisk IDEntitet, is the solution selected by the Ministry of Education and Research for secure identification within the education sector. Available from: (Retrieved: 25 April 2014).


Coursera (2014) How to earn your verified certificate, Signature Track Guidebook. Available from: (Retrieved: 26 March 2014).


When the student enrols in a course that offers Signature Track, he or she takes a photo with a webcam of him/herself along with his/her passport, and enters this into the Coursera platform. He or she also submits a text sample via the keyboard. The presumption is that a combination of e.g. speed, rhythm and pauses constitute a unique fingerprint. In connection with any credit-earning activity in the course, the text sample and photo shall be repeated and automatically compared with the stored text sample and photo. After completing the course with Signature Track, Coursera can, for a small fee, distribute a course certificate to the student which is issued by the institution offering the course, verifying that the identity of the student is correct. This is different from an “ordinary” course certificate, which is issued only on behalf of the lecturer without any guarantee of the student's identity.


Lee, P. (2013) “Students to earn credits for MOOCs after passing exams”, University World News, 22 March. Available from: article.php?story= 20130920142014403 (Retrieved: 26 March 2014).


Pearson VUE (2014). Available from: 26 March 2014).


The Evolution (2014) MOOCs Making Strides Toward Credit. Available from: friday-links/moocs-making-strides-toward-credit/ (Retrieved: 26 March 2014).


Sherrie N. (2014) “Online proctoring gaining popularity with MOOCs”, University Business, March. Available from: proctoring-gaining-popularity-moocs (Retrieved: 26 March 2014).


ProctorU (2014). Available from: h ttp:// (Retrieved: 26 March 2014).


eduGAIN – international interaction between log-in solutions for higher education. Available from: (Retrieved: 25 April 2014).

36. (2013) Technology that verifies MOOC test takers on the spot. Available from: verifies-mooc-test-takers-on-the-spot (Retrieved: 26 March 2014).

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