I've been thinking a lot about 'credit' lately. USU OCW receive 1-2 emails a week from people asking if they can take a test for credit. Many of these people say they've been through course material, and feel they understand it. But the knowledge itself isn't good enough. What they want credit, and it's a completely rational thing to want. Consider the following.
For the first time in my life, I had to hire an attorney. I'm not going into details, and it's nothing big, but lets just say that me and another person had a friendly disagreement. And when I say friendly, I really do mean it. We both read a contract and interpreted it in two different ways.
Now I knew I was right, as I'm sure you readers know I was right. Your faith in me in humbling. :) I showed the gentleman why I was right, but he did not budge. He felt he was right. So I let my fingers do the walking (I didn't use them to communicate, because that is just plain rude), and called an attorney, and asked him to clarify. When I talked to the attorney he laughed and said that my interpretation was in fact correct. Everything I had explained to the man was right.
When the man learned this, he agreed to comply with the contract. I had told him the same thing the attorney had told him, but there was a difference. Think about it. The attorney and I had the same information. We shared the same information with the man. The only difference was that the attorney had a certificate of 'credit' on his wall. He'd been to school, and so he must know about these things.
We do this all the time. We go to doctors, accountants, and lawyers because they have received a degree, or a certificate from a place that says they know how to do X.
OpenCourseWare must solve the problem of credit. There are people using our materials, and there are people who are learning skills. But unless there is some easy way to demonstrate that knowledge, it is the same as if they don't have it. Imagine having to sit down with a doctor, and quizzing him before you determine whether or not he is capable of examining you. It's much easier to look at degree hanging on a wall, and know somebody with more knowledge than you made sure this person is competent.
Universities currently have a monopoly on issuing credit. I'd love to see an alternative. We're seeing the beginnings of this with institutions like Western Governor's University, but even this is just a first step. There is much more that needs to be done.
You either know the stuff, or you don't. And if you do, I'd like to see you get the credit, regardless of where it comes from.