Online "digital university" Udacity has announced a partnership with Pearson VUE that enables them to offer students the option of a certified credential.
As a proud graduate of Udacity's Computer Science Course, CS101: Build a Search Engine, I'm pleased with my certificate and have it framed, hanging on my wall. But would I add it to my portfolio of credentials to present to a potential employer?
Udacity, pioneered by Sebastian Thrun, has a mission to democratize education. The challenge, in order to achieve the goal of providing a life-changing resource, its courses, it to get its courses accepted by the outside world. The partnership with Pearson VUE is one step along this road.
It adds the option of having a further certificate that validates the one issued by Udacity and the worldwide network of testing centres - over 4000 in 165 countries - should make it relatively convenient.
Students will only need to undertake this additional step, which will involve "a nominal fee":
if they wish to pursue Udacitiy's "official credential and be part of [its] job placement program.
Those like me who are taking courses to fill in gaps in their knowledge or to see how things have changed since they last studied the topic - or let's face it just for fun - won't need to.
Including an extra final test overcomes one of problems faced by online education - was it really the student who's name appears on the certificate that completed the course and took the test?
Was it that student's own unaided work?
By going to a Pearson Vue testing center your identity can be checked. And by sitting a test your knowledge can be established. However, as the first round of tests for Udacity courses are only 90 minutes, with a multiple choice format and no programming they are not a substitute for the course assessment that currently takes place - and, of course, this is not the intention. The idea is that your identify is checked and the fact that you do know enough for it to be reasonable that you actually took the more difficult online exam is the rational.
The same sort of validation process appears to be included in Anant Argawal's plans for MITx, or should that now be for edX?
Students currently on the prototype course Electronics and Circuits will be issued a certificate for successful completion without they requirement of being tested in a testing center of having their identity verified - which hints that in future this step will be required.
There are other validity problems, however. Taking a test at a testing centre establishes that the holder of the certificate is the person that completed the course. But what validates the course contents? In the case of an online course based on an existing university course - for example, Professor Andrew Ng's Stanford University course on Machine Learning offered by Coursera - a lot of the Kudos comes from the reputation of the affiliated educational institution.
This is something that Udacity currently lacks. Some of it courses are taught by academics with a track record, but its new courses have largely been created especially for Udacity.
Anyone with inside knowledge will be able to tell you that they are demanding courses and gaining a good grade does indeed mean something. But proving this to the external world is a more difficult task as it takes time to build up a reputation - ask any accredited university.