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Gates Backs MIT Online Course Offering at Community Colleges

Gates Backs MIT Online Course Offering at Community Colleges
Community college students frequently commute to class, and the online portions of the course will reduce travel demands, said Anant Agarwal, a professor in MIT’s electrical engineering and computer science department. Source: edX

Nov. 18 (Bloomberg) -- Two Boston-area community colleges will offer an adapted version of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology online course in computer science with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Bunker Hill and MassBay community colleges will list the course -- Introduction to Computer Science and Programming -- beginning early next year, officials from the colleges said today. The course will combine materials from MIT and Harvard University’s EdX online teaching venture with classroom sessions, they said in a statement.

The collaboration is part of EdX’s mission to determine how to use online education most effectively to educate large student populations inside and outside classrooms. The Gates Foundation provided $1 million over a year and a half to see how online education can be used to expand offerings at two-year community colleges, said Anant Agarwal, EdX’s president and founder.

“It’s been a real challenge for community colleges to get funding and staffing and large numbers of quality courses,” Agarwal said in a telephone interview. “Efforts like this can make a real difference.”

While Bunker Hill Community College has been offering online courses for more than 10 years, the EdX format differs in that it’s highly interactive, said Mary Fifield, president of the college. It also features a “flipped” classroom format, where students view new course material at home and then come to class to work with faculty on what would normally be homework, she said.

Faculty Stimulus

Bunker Hill will charge about $423 for the course and students will get three credit hours for taking it, Fifield said.

“This fits very well with us, because we’ve had so many students taking online classes,” she said in a telephone interview. “It’s a stimulus for more of our faculty to get involved in EdX and do applied research on our own online classes.”

EdX, unveiled by Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Harvard and MIT in May, was established as a research effort in online education and will be funded by $30 million from each of the universities. More than 100,000 people have signed up to take the computer science course online, Agarwal said.

With more than 10,000 students, Bunker Hill Community College is based in Boston’s Charlestown neighborhood. MassBay Community College is in Wellesley, Massachusetts.

EdX decided to collaborate with the colleges because of their proximity and “visionary leadership,” Agarwal said.

“They’re really looking for creative ways to reinvent community colleges,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: John Lauerman in Boston at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Lisa Wolfson at

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