Harvard Faculty Wants Involvement in EdX Online Venture

Harvard University professors expressed concerned that HarvardX, the school’s offering on the EdX online teaching platform founded by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is operating without the involvement of its faculty.

Almost 60 professors signed a letter to Michael Smith, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, requesting that he form a committee “to draft a set of ethical and education principles” that will govern the faculty’s involvement in HarvardX, according to the letter sent yesterday and reprinted in today’s Harvard Crimson.

EdX, which started last year with $60 million, is one of a number of providers of massive open online courses, or MOOCs, that are sweeping across higher education. On May 21, EdX said it was almost doubling to 27 the number of universities offering courses, expanding in Europe, Australia and Asia. While some professors are enthusiastic about the potential to share their best teaching, others are skeptical, including the faculty of Amherst College, which voted last month not to join Edx.

“The Faculty of Arts and Sciences is directly responsible for the teaching of Harvard undergraduates and Ph.D. students,” the professors said in the letter. “It is our responsibility to ensure that HarvardX is consistent with our commitment to our students on campus, and with our academic mission.”

The letter notes that existing HarvardX faculty committees are made up mainly of professors outside the arts and sciences and haven’t addressed the larger questions about the project, such as its impact on higher education as a whole.

Among the signatories are physicist Lisa Randall, economist Benjamin Friedman and historian Stephen Greenblatt.

“Smith looks forward to continuing the ongoing dialogue with these and other members of the FAS faculty,” Jeff Neal, a Harvard spokesman, said in an e-mail. “Harvard faculty have been debating innovations in pedagogy for 375 years and will continue to do so.”

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