Union High School students will soon be able to attend prestigious universities without leaving campus.

Dr. Justin Tarte, director of curriculum and support services, said administrators are in the process of putting together a program where students can opt to take a free Massive Open Online Course, or “MOOC,” to fulfill elective requirements for juniors and seniors.

MOOCs are offered by universities worldwide, including some of the most highly accredited U.S. institutions such as Harvard, Yale or MIT.

They cover just about any subject imaginable, from The Beatles to the Big Bang Theory, or foreign languages to physics.

“The courses aren’t easy,” Tarte said. “They are coming from schools such as Harvard or MIT and those institutions are going to make sure the courses are high quality and rigorous if they are going to put their name on them.”

Like a traditional class, MOOCs have a facilitator, include testing of understanding and have a start and end date. But they aren’t just a course, they are a way to collaborate, since they are aimed at large-scale participation via the Internet.

Each MOOC will be different in content, requirements, prerequisites and length, Tarte said. Some will contain video lectures, some might have selected readings, and some courses provide quizzes periodically so students can test their understanding of the material.

Tarte said students must go through an application process to take a semester of MOOCs and as part of the process, they will be responsible for finding enough of them to fill an 18-week semester.

For example, a student could take a four-week course on nanotechnology, a seven-week philosophy course and a seven-week course on algorithms.

“The students will have to do the legwork,” Tarte said.

Students will have to explain why they want to take a course and get them approved by their counselor and signed off by a parent or guardian, Tarte said.

“The kids who take MOOCs will have to be self-motivated,” he said.

For some students, MOOCs will offer a way for them to explore a future field. For example, a student could take a course on animal behavior to explore the possibility of going into animal science.

MOOCs can also be helpful for students who already know what course of study they will take in college, Tarte said.

Tarte said the online courses open an endless array of courses that Union couldn’t possibly offer in a traditional classroom.

“They can take anything you could imagine,” he said.

There are still some details the district must iron out, such as how to assess and monitor students taking MOOCs. Tarte said there would most likely be some sort of final project involved, such as a student-made video or presentation to show what they have learned from the course.

Tarte said although several students are already taking MOOCs, he hopes to have a more formal pilot program in place next semester.

Tarte said as far as he knows, Union is the only high school in the area, and maybe even the state, that is offering MOOCs for elective credit.