The battle of the MOOCs just got bigger as Harvard said it would team up with MIT to offer free online courses from both universities to the masses. The new venture – funded with $30 million from each school – will be called edX. Similar to the MITx program, edX will offer certificates to students but will not issue credits or degrees. WiredAcademic readers know well the growth story of MOOC courses. Sebastian Thrun’s artificial intelligence course at Stanford drew 160,000 last fall. His new company, Udacity, already has 200,000 students enrolled in six courses. Earlier this month, Stanford, Princeton, UPenn and the University of Michigan said they would be part of a for-profit company called Coursera, that is headed by two Stanford professors and landed $16 million in venture capital funding (including from Silicon Valley heavy John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins). Will these new consortiums and startups be successful? Earlier projects form Columbia University and Princeton University failed. Columbia University’s failed startup, Fathom, launched in 2001 and partners with the University of Chicago, University of Michigan and others. It lost money and closed two years later. Yale, Princeton and Stanford jointly launched AllLearn, a nonprofit that folded in 2006. But, then again, social media and video technology were not well-developed when those launched. Here’s how media reported the new edX project:
Tamar Lewin writes in The New York Times
The technology for online learning, with video lesson segments, embedded quizzes, immediate feedback and student-paced learning, is evolving so quickly that those in the new ventures say the offerings are still experimental. “My guess is that what we end up doing five years from now will look very different from what we do now,” said Provost Alan M. Garber of Harvard, who will be in charge of the university’s involvement.
EdX, which is expected to offer its first five courses this fall, will be overseen by a not-for-profit organization in Cambridge, owned and governed equally by the two universities, each of which has committed $30 million to the project. The first president of edX will be Anant Agarwal, director of M.I.T.’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, who has led the development of the MITx platform. At Harvard, Dr. Garber will direct the effort, with Michael D. Smith, dean of the faculty of arts and sciences, working with faculty members to develop and deliver courses. Eventually, they said, other universities will join them in offering courses on the platform.
M.I.T. and Harvard officials emphasized that they would use the new online platform not just to build a global community of online learners, but also to research teaching methods and technologies. Online courses with thousands of students give researchers the ability to monitor students’ progress, they said, identifying what they click on and where they have trouble. Already, a researcher from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, using the M.I.T. Circuits course, found that students overwhelmingly preferred to read the handwritten notes of Professor Agarwal rather than the same notes presented on PowerPoint.
Education experts say that while the new online classes offer opportunities for students and researchers, they also pose some threat to low-ranked colleges. “Projects like this can impact lives around the world, for the next billion students from China and India,” said George Siemens, a MOOC pioneer who teaches at Athabasca University, a publicly-supported online Canadian university. “But if I were president of a mid-tier university, I would be looking over my shoulder very nervously right now, because if a leading university offers a free Circuits course, it becomes a real question whether other universities need to develop a Circuits course.”
edX will offer both engineering courses and humanities courses. Computers can grade the former while crowd-sourcing and peer review can help grade the later. Many education experts are more hopeful about the new enterprises.
Liz Gannes writes in AllThingsD:
Basically, Harvard is jumping in as an equal partner to a previously announced project called MITx, with each school contributing faculty leaders and putting up $30 million in funding. EdX (which was pronounced both “ed-ex” and “ee-dee-ex” at a press conference this morning) will offer Harvard and MIT classes online for free; in the future, other schools will be invited to join.
The two Boston area schools are essentially leapfrogging Stanford University, where a set of online classes last year gave rise to the creation of two for-profit companies led by the Stanford professors who taught the classes — Sebastian Thrun’s Udacity and Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng’s Coursera. Stanford is still figuring out its own approach to online learning.
EdX is inspired in part by Sal Khan’s Khan Academy, and will include videos made in his style, said Anant Agarwal, director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Agarwal will be the first president of EdX. Of other online learning initiatives, including those that are for-profit, Agarwal said, “Of course, all of us are looking at each other. At the end of the day, I think the more online educators there are, I think the better off the whole world is.”
In a subtle swipe at the proprietary companies that have also built platforms through which top-tier universities can run MOOCs, L. Rafael Reif, the MIT provost who will serve as president of edX, suggested that the ethic of transparency and public-mindedness Harvard and MIT bring to the table will make edX a more generous and responsible curator of the learning data that MOOC platforms will accumulate.
“We feel very strongly that that data should be available for research under the governance of a not-for-profit structure,” Reif said. The recent, aggressive movement of the name-brand institutions into free, massive versions of their vaunted courses has kindled discussions about the future of face-to-face education as the free, online options become more sophisticated and creditable.
Harvard MIT reiterated in Wednesday’s announcement that their objective is primarily to improve the value proposition for tuition-paying students rather than undermine it. “MIT and Harvard will use the jointly operated edX platform to research how students learn and how technologies can facilitate effective teaching both on-campus and online,” the universities said in a release. “The edX platform will enable the study of which teaching methods and tools are most successful.”
In what has quickly become one of the strongest undercurrents of the messaging from these and other top institutions, the presidents of both colleges took care to underscore their commitment to the on-campus student experience during a press conference. The universities’ vaunted courses via the Web will in some ways open the gates to learning opportunities that historically have been the exclusive privilege of tuition-paying students, said Drew Faust, the Harvard president. “It is, however, what will happen on our campuses that will truly distinguish edX,” she said.
Via Inside Higher Ed
What is edX?
An organization established by MIT and Harvard University that will develop an open-source technology platform to deliver online courses. EdX will support Harvard and MIT faculty in conducting research on teaching and learning on campus through tools that enrich classroom and laboratory experiences. At the same time, edX will also reach learners around the world through online course materials. The edX website will begin by hosting MITx and Harvardx content, with the goal of adding content from other universities interested in joining the platform. edX will also support the Harvard and MIT faculty in conducting research on teaching and learning.
Portfolios of MIT and Harvard online courses offered to learners around the world through edX.
An open-source online learning platform that will feature teaching designed specifically for the Web. Features will include: self-paced learning, online discussion groups, wiki-based collaborative learning, assessment of learning as a student progresses through a course, and online laboratories. The platform will also serve as a laboratory from which data will be gathered to better understand how students learn. Because it is open-source, the platform will be improved continuously.
Is there anything innovative about the online technology?
Yes. It will move beyond the standard model of online education that relies on watching video content and will offer an interactive experience for students. And the technology will be open-source; other universities will be able to leverage the innovative technology to create their own online offerings.
Why are MIT and Harvard doing this?
To improve education on campus and around the world:
- On campus, edX research will enhance our understanding of how students learn and how technologies can best be used as part of our larger efforts to improve teaching and learning.
- Beyond our campuses, edX will expand access to education, allow for certificates of mastery to be earned by able learners, and make the open-source platform available to other institutions.
Why did Harvard and MIT decide to partner with each other?
We share a vision for greater access to education. Based on our long history of collaboration, we know we can leverage our strengths to best serve the world.
How is this different from what other universities are doing online?
EdX will be entirely our universities’ shared educational missions. Also, a primary goal of edX is to improve teaching and learning on campus by supporting faculty from both universities in conducting significant research on how students learn.
Who will lead edX?
EdX is a priority for the leadership of both Harvard and MIT, and it will be governed by a board made up of key leaders from both institutions, appointed by each university’s president. Anant Agrawal, director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, will be the initial president of edX and will report to the board.
Does the effort have a staff?
EdX is a significant undertaking that will require significant resources. The full scope of the staff has not been determined, but there will be a staff dedicated to the initiative.
Who can take edX courses? Will there be an admissions process?
EdX will be available to anyone in the world with an Internet connection, and in general, there will not be an admissions process. For a modest fee — and as determined by the edX board, MIT and Harvard — credentials will be granted only to students who earn them by demonstrating mastery of the material of a subject.
Will the certificates be awarded by Harvard and/or MIT?
As determined by the edX board, MIT and Harvard, online learners who demonstrate mastery of subjects could earn a certificate of completion, but such certificates would not be issued under the name of Harvard or MIT.
What will the scope of the online courses be? How many? Which faculty?
Our goal is to offer a wide variety of courses across disciplines.
Will Harvard and MIT students be able to take these courses for credit?
No. MITx and Harvardx courses will not be offered for credit at either university. The online content will be used to extend and enrich on-campus courses.
How will success be measured?
Progress in student-learning research and the demand for online courses will both be measured as indications of success. However, a plan for measuring the full success of edX will be developed in consultation with faculty from MIT and Harvard.
Who is the learner? Domestic or international? Age range?
Improving teaching and learning for students on our campuses is one of our primary goals. Beyond that, we don’t have a target group of potential learners, as the goal is to make these courses available to anyone in the world — from any demographic — who has interest in advancing their own knowledge. The only requirement is to have a computer with an Internet connection.
Many institutions are partnering in this space. Is the MIT/Harvard partnership exclusive? Will other institutions be able to collaborate with edX?
It is our intention that over time other universities will join MIT and Harvard in offering courses on the edX platform. The gathering of many universities’ educational content together on one site will enable learners worldwide to access the course content of any participating university from a single website, and to use a set of online educational tools shared by all participating universities.
Will MIT and Harvard standards apply here?
The reach changes exponentially, but the rigor remains the same.
How do you intend to test whether this approach is improving learning?
Both institutions have assembled faculty who will look at data collection and analytical tools for assessing the results.
Via MIT News