Harvard Forms Venture With MIT to Offer Online Courses

Harvard Forms Venture With MIT to Offer Online Courses
The Harvard University motto in Cambridge. Photographer: Kelvin Ma/Bloomberg

Harvard University will team with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to offer online courses from their faculties to students around the world that will include quizzes and certificates upon completion.

The nonprofit venture, called EdX, will be funded with $30 million from each of the universities and will begin offering courses this year, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based schools said today in a statement.

“This is really mission-driven and something that cuts across all the aspects of research and teaching that are critical to what we understand ourselves to be,” Harvard President Drew Faust said in an interview.

Expanding and studying online education has become an important part of the teaching and research functions of nonprofit universities, Faust said. MIT, which has put course material online for a decade, in February introduced MITx, an online program of courses with homework, exams and discussion forums. The new venture will be based on MITx’s technology platform. Other universities may join them in offering courses, Harvard and MIT said.

“The not-for-profit piece is critical,” MIT President Susan Hockfield said in an interview. “We want to keep education in the public domain.”

Fees Undecided

EdX will be run by Anant Agarwal, director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, who led the development of MITx. How and whether the program will charge students remains under study, Agarwal said. For example, he said, the school may charge for certificates issued for those who have successfully completed courses.

“We do intend to find a way to at least support those activities,” MIT Provost Rafael Reif said in a press conference. “Clearly, we want to make sure that this does not become a drain on the budgets of Harvard and MIT.”

The courses will feature video segments, embedded quizzes, immediate feedback and online laboratories, the schools said. These tools can help improve both online and campus-based classes, said Piotr Mitros, an MIT researcher who helped develop a prototype online electrical engineering course for the project.

“There are all kinds of different rates of learning among students,” he said in an interview. “With an online lecture, you can hit the pause button, you can run the tape back and watch again.”

Education researchers can study students’ interactions with online platforms to understand how students are learning, which explanations work well, and for whom, Agarwal said. It won’t be used as a substitute for classroom learning.

“The campus environment offers opportunities and experiences that cannot be replicated online,” Hockfield said in the statement. “EdX is designed to improve, not replace the campus experience.”

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