Source: NYTimes, May 2012
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.”
The edX project will include not only engineering courses, in which computer grading is relatively simple, but also humanities courses, in which essays might be graded through crowd-sourcing, or assessed with natural-language software.
“What’s still missing is an online platform that gives faculty the capacity to customize the content of their own highly interactive courses.”