Saturday, October 20, 2012

Minnesota bans coursework from free online service Coursera

As controversy continues to swirl over the extreme amount of student loan debt that is being carried by a number of Americans, it seems that the state of Minnesota has come down on something that might help many: free online courses from a reputable company.

The ban was reported on Thursday by the Chronicle of Higher Education. However, the ban does not involve a new law, but rather a decades-old law that requires colleges and universities to get the state government’s permission to offer instruction within its borders.

This applies, apparently, even when the instruction is flowing into the state's borders via the Internet.

Coursera, a Calif-based startup, has updated its Terms of Service with the following paragraph:
Notice for Minnesota Users:

Coursera has been informed by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education that under Minnesota Statutes (136A.61 to 136A.71), a university cannot offer online courses to Minnesota residents unless the university has received authorization from the State of Minnesota to do so. If you are a resident of Minnesota, you agree that either (1) you will not take courses on Coursera, or (2) for each class that you take, the majority of work you do for the class will be done from outside the State of Minnesota.
To be clear, it's possible to use a service like Tor to make it appear that you are outside of a certain locale, so making it "appear" as though you were outside the state when taking a course would be no real technical issue. 

Naturally, it would seem to be impossible for Minnesota to block the coursework, unless they erected their own version of the "Great Firewall of China."

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Also, Coursera doesn't offer degrees, just free classes, so this seems to be a strange ban unless one considers coperatism or protectionism.

At any rate, Coursera offers 198 courses at the time of this writing. Minnesotans who want to take the course "Securing Digital Democracy," "Statistics One," or "Modern & Contemporary American Poetry" - sans cost - will have to go elsewhere (or use Tor).

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