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WASHINGTON – A massive online learning program is being embraced today by 10 large public university systems, including the State University of New York.

The development of “Massive Open Online Courses,” which began with elite universities making their courses available online to the masses, is moving into the trenches of public higher education, officials will announce.

The large public university systems – including the giant SUNY system – will unveil plans to incorporate MOOCs and platforms offered through for-profit Coursera into their own teaching. Coursera is an education technology firm based in Mountain View, Calif., that partners with universities throughout the world to offer online instruction.

Online courses, though proliferating, are not universally embraced on many campuses. Many faculty and students fear that in a bid to cut costs, schools are relying too much on remote, electronic instruction as a substitute for face-to-face classroom instruction.

Today’s announcement is likely to energize critics of this growing trend.

The plans vary widely. Some institutions will focus on improving prep courses for students coming into the system, others on matriculated students both online and on campus. Still others will be developing their own MOOCs to teach students at other institutions in their states.

At least one system, Tennessee, plans a version of an experiment cropping up at schools around the country: having students take in-person and customized MOOC-like versions of the same course, and comparing results.

The announcement is the latest ramping up of higher education’s MOOC experiment, which launched in earnest barely a year ago as a way for the public to sample elite college courses. But it is now tangibly affecting the large public institutions that do much of the heavy lifting of American higher education.

The latest batch of partners also includes the universities of Georgia, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Mexico and West Virginia. The announcement shows the extent to which the MOOCs and the platforms they are built on offer cash-strapped university leaders and policymakers an irresistible promise of doing more with less – to scale up education and help students move more efficiently toward a degree.

“It’s been a challenge in reduced financial capacity to offer all the courses all the time that every student needs to complete a degree,” said SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher.

“That’s what slows students down – our inability to provide degree-required courses students need at exactly the speed they want them.”

Many aren’t convinced, however, that the trend is good for students, and the latest announcement comes as the sheer speed of the MOOC movement is raising concerns on campus.

In recent weeks, faculty at Duke University and Amherst College have voted against elements of expanding MOOCs on their campuses, and 58 Harvard faculty last week called for a new university committee to consider ethical issues related to Harvard’s participation in edX, a MOOC-producing consortium led by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Some California faculty have also protested plans for the state higher education system to use MOOCs to supplement teaching on campus.

Legislators in Florida and California, though, are pressing to force universities to accept credit from MOOC courses, especially if students can’t get into the in-person versions of the courses they need.

Peter Stokes, an expert on education innovation at Northeastern University, said more such efforts will follow – likely to the alarm of some faculty.

“It almost seems to promote the notion that there is this no-cost alternative for higher education,” he said. “It feeds into the fear that many public institutions have that the political solution to higher education is to continue to divest.”

At SUNY, Zimpher said the giant, 64-campus system would be working with Coursera and other providers as part of a broader effort to expand capacity of its “Open SUNY” online program by 100,000 students, potentially offering students up to one-third of their online degree programs outside SUNY.

Details on programs and courses aren’t yet set, but Zimpher emphasized that any MOOC courses would be evaluated for possible credit by similar faculty mechanisms that SUNY currently uses to assess traditional courses.

“We must maintain the same academic oversight and the same academic standards that have applied for decades in our residential delivery system when we employ online delivery,” she said.