By Cathryn Richter, Principal Partnership Manager
We wrapped the 2019 Coursera Partners Conference at the University of London last month, and program quality was a primary topic of discussion as more partners invest in for-credit programs on Coursera like degree programs and MasterTrack™ Certificates. The Administrator Track (AT) sessions convened top institutional decision-makers to discuss the challenges of achieving organizational goals by bridging theory with best practices in online learning.
#1 Stackable, online Master’s degrees are here to stay
At previous Coursera conferences, the underlying thinking about stackable, online Master’s degrees was that they were an experiment. We needed to test the waters. This year, partners showed up to share about not only how their programs are working, but why they plan to build more. In the session Online Degrees: Agents of Change, the room was full of university leaders wanting to hear more about the programs being launched on Coursera. Panelists from our newest degree programs shared their commitment to educational access through stackability and flexibility.
Beth Winkelstein, from the University of Pennsylvania, discussed the primary learning benefits of Penn’s Master of Computer and Information Technology. With the intention to scale to nearly 600 students a year, the program is one-third of the cost of the on-campus program, and created with flexibility in mind for mid-career professionals. The program is the only online Ivy League Master’s degree in computer science designed for students without a computer science background.
From the University of Colorado Boulder, Quentin McAndrew shared the institution’s unique approach to online degrees with performance-based admissions. CU Boulder’s Master of Science in Electrical Engineering will not require a Bachelor’s degree, and admittance is based on the ability to pass a Specialization. Faculty are paving the way for studying electrical engineering online in a fully customizable way, allowing learners to pick which courses they want as they build towards the program’s 30 credits.
#2: The industry and academy connection must be strengthened
In two separate sessions, partners from both academia and industry discussed ways to strengthen communication between their respective institutions. On day one, during University and Industry Collaborations, Solveig Nicklos, of the Abu Dhabi School of Government expressed, “Education is not meeting our needs.” She went on to share that the learning curve is only getting steeper, and a new learning paradigm is needed right away to teach skills to the workforce of tomorrow. Panelists and audience members expressed the desire to co-develop applied learning experiences to serve learners who need new skills.
On day two, panelists from Revolution: Alternative Digital Credentials discussed ensuring the right content gets delivered to learners in an accessible, flexible way through a credential that’s recognized by the industry. A great example of industry/university collaboration was between panelists from IBM and Northeastern University: IBM currently issues digital badge credentials that provide credit for three of Northeastern’s degrees. Coursera is working to help university and industry partners make connections like this to support future credentialing innovation.
#3: Opinions differ, but rigor is a priority
Audience members enjoyed a lively debate at Your Global Campus: Making it Happen. Soulaymane Kachani, Vice Provost at Columbia University, proposed that online programs should have the same admissions standards as on-campus programs, and that high quality programs would be reflected by selectivity of admissions.
William Kuskin, Vice Provost at the University of Colorado Boulder, countered that through Boulder’s newest degree programs, learners would be admitted based upon their performance. The Boulder team believes that providing more access to programs does not degrade the quality or rigor of the program, and that flexibility and choice are key components of online programs. “Learning belongs to the learner,” William remarked.
Regardless of where you stand, the panel agreed that we have arrived at a key reflection point as institutions determine their goals for creating new credentials and programs. Attendees discussed motivations such as access, scale, tuition, and rankings. Above all is a dedication to rigorous programs with high standards for learning.
As Coursera expands its support of new programs, we are grateful for the thoughtful and dedicated approach that our university and industry partners bring in the spirit of collaboration. The discussions that began at the Partners Conference will continue as we build the future of innovative, stackable, and accessible learning. Together, we will bring the world’s best education to anyone, anywhere.2