Penn Open Online Calculus Course to Earn ACE Credit

PHILADELPHIA — A massive open online course, or MOOC, taught by a University of Pennsylvania calculus professor has been recommended for credit by the American Council on Education.

The Penn course, Calculus: Single Variable, is taught by Robert Ghrist, the Andrea Mitchell University Professor and a Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor. It is one of Penn’s current offerings through Coursera, which offers free public access to courses. Although Penn does not extend University credit for its open courses, the ACE recommendation provides a new mechanism, similar to advanced placement, for potentially hundreds of other institutions to award credits to students completing the course.

“Increasing access to education is one of our most important goals in working with Coursera,” Provost Vincent Price said.  “We are gratified by the ACE’s recognition, and we are excited by the potential of this course to help people learn more about calculus around the world.”

The class builds upon high-school-level knowledge of calculus, using hand-drawn graphics and animations in emphasizing conceptual understanding and applications.

"ACE credit recommendations will allow us to reward students for all the hard work that they are already doing," Ghrist said. "These students are working as hard as they can to learn this difficult material, while we are working as hard as we can to teach it, so, in the end, everyone will benefit."

The Coursera-ACE arrangement is conducted through ACE’s College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE CREDIT®), a recognized authority in assessing non-traditional education experiences and helping adults gain credit for courses and exams taken outside traditional degree programs.

ACE CREDIT’s review process enlists a team of academic faculty to assess courses and exams for the purpose of making college-credit recommendations. More than 2,000 colleges and universities consider ACE credit recommendations in determining the applicability to their course and degree programs.

“Rob Ghrist’s calculus course is unlike any other in its beauty, scope and depth,” said Edward Rock, Penn’s director of open course initiatives.  “If this course with an ACE credit recommendation can help students transition into higher education, we will be thrilled.”

With the additional verification measures being taken for these courses, Rock believes Ghrist’s calculus course can be an important gateway into higher learning for students around the world. To ensure academic integrity for students who wish to obtain academic credit for their work, Coursera plans to verify a student’s identity and to help students formally validate their learning and achievement in Coursera courses.

One measure –- online remote proctoring -– will allow students with a Web cam to take a proctored assessment at their convenience anywhere in the world. Coursera plans to begin piloting remote-proctoring technologies from ProctorU and Software Secure. Coursera is also evaluating a range of other technologies to help ensure academic integrity.  

While Penn students cannot directly earn academic credits for completing Ghrist’s Coursera course, it may help them place out of introductory math classes. Students can receive academic credit by passing an advanced-placement test administered by the Mathematics Department or receive retroactive credit for Single Variable Calculus if they pass Multivariable Calculus with a high enough grade.

Ghrist’s physical class will derive the greatest benefit from the Coursera offering, as the online materials will become the core text, freeing up class time for group work, in-depth analysis and additional applications and extensions.

Additional information, including registration information, about Calculus: Single Variable is available at