The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University are joining the ranks of elite universities jumping into the burgeoning MOOCs — massively open online courses — business. The schools' new partnership, dubbed edX, is also spurring the boom in online video education.
Stanford, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan recently partnered in Coursera, a commercial company with $16 million in venture capital.
Beyond academia, the just announced TED-ED website offers customizable tools for educators, while Khan Academy has helped countless students, teachers and parents with its free treasure trove of online videos, offering more than 3,000 tuturials on everything from math to physics.
The underlying technologies that enable online education to offer video curricula with embedded quizzes, real-time interactivity, online laboratories and student-paced learning, are advancing so rapidly, those dipping their toes in still consider their ventures experimental.
The landmark edX joint venture between Harvard and MIT, which will offer offer online versions of their classes and those of other universities, will be overseen by a jointly owned and operated not-for-profit organization based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with each university contributing $30 million in institutional support, grants and philanthropy at launch.
At the same time, edX will support Harvard and MIT faculty in conducting research on teaching and learning on campus through tools that enrich classroom and laboratory experiences. Courses will begin this fall, while edX will release its learning platform as open source software so other universities and organizations can host the platform.
“My guess is that what we end up doing five years from now will look very different from what we do now,” said Harvard Provost Alan M. Garber of the collaboration to the New York Times.
“EdX represents a unique opportunity to improve education on our own campuses through online learning, while simultaneously creating a bold new educational path for millions of learners worldwide,” MIT President Susan Hockfield added.
Harvard President Drew Faust commented, “Harvard and MIT will use these new technologies and the research they will make possible to lead the direction of online learning in a way that benefits our students, our peers, and people across the nation and the globe.” The co-branding move also burnishes each school's already highly-burnished brand, as a public service enterprise.
MIT announced its MITx open online learning project in December, and its initial course, Circuits and Electronics, enrolled about 120,000 students. Certificates of mastery will be available for edX, but not issued under the Harvard or MIT name.
Some educators worry that online classes, particularly from prestigious schools, may be a detriment for lower-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 at Athabasca University, a publicly supported online Canadian university, to the Times. “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.”
But for the growing cadre of MOOC proponents, it’s just the beginning of a technological revolution in educational evolution. And on the homework/continuing education front, such innovative, public-oriented partnerships between powerhouse educational brands means there has never been a better time for learning. An A+ to both schools for sharing their knowledge — and others' — with the world.