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    Students closer to getting online course credit

    Nearly 2 million students could be a step closer to getting credit for their work in free, online classes, under an agreement disclosed Tuesday.

    Mountain View, Calif.-based Coursera — an online platform for about 200 classes from 34 universities such as Princeton, Duke, and Stanford — said the American Council on Education would begin evaluating about five Coursera classes initially for possible credit recommendations, and the number could grow. It would still be up to individual universities whether to grant credit to students who complete such classes, but a stamp of approval from council would likely go a long way toward persuading at least some US institutions to do so.

    The council, which has a long history of evaluating various kinds of courses on behalf of universities, said the credit evaluation would be part of a broader effort financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to study so-called Massive Online Open Courses — and ‘‘answer questions about the disruptive potential of this new and innovative approach to higher education.’’


    To meet council requirements and ensure that credit-seeking students are who they say they are, Coursera also said it would begin offering identity-verified and proctored online exams using webcams. And while taking the classes is free, students will also have to pay a fee to qualify for the credit recommendation.

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    Coursera, founded by two Stanford University professors, is one of several efforts in which consortia of leading universities are making available online some of their best and most popular teaching. But only a small percentage of students who sign up for such classes are completing the coursework.

    That is partly because many students just want to learn and are not pursuing a degree or credential. But for those who do, there have been virtually no avenues for getting transferable credit from the online open courses. That has limited any potential for the movement to make higher education credentials more accessible and affordable.