The anticipation has been growing since May, when Harvard and MIT first introduced edX, an open-source technology platform designed to deliver free online courses. After announcing the first classes in July, Harvard is finally ready to kick the project off. Students will now be able to find the oldest institution of higher learning online come Monday.
About 100,000 students have registered for Harvard’s first online offerings, according to the Boston Globe, including the ever-popular introductory computer science course CS50, taught by David Malan, and Quantitative Methods in Clinical and Public Health Research, adapted from the School of Public Health.
Although the initial enthusiasm is encouraging, Harvard University Provost Alan Garber told the Boston Globe:
We really think that the first courses we offer will be great, but long term the payoff is going to come from a better understanding about how people learn.
Students can take as many courses as they want through edX. For students who excel in the courses and pass a proctored exam, they’ll also be able to receive a credential at “a modest fee,” as described by edX President Anant Agarwal.
As the platform continues to grow, more features will be added to accommodate different courses, such as the ability to submit essays, along with the grading solutions tied in with that. Garber told the Boston Globe edX “already supports discussion groups and forums that make online education effective and more engaging than textbooks,” so it will be interesting to see how students interact with the platform as it evolves.
Educators have already started to re-evaluate how they teach inside the classroom. Not only will these pilot courses be able to better understand how people learn, but can help teachers act on new opportunities and iterate their lesson plans. As former MIT President Susan Hockfield said:
Today, in higher education, generally, you can choose to view this era as one of threatening change and unsettling volatility, or you can see it as a moment charged with the most exciting possibilities presented to educators in our lifetimes. […] Online education is not an enemy of residential education, but rather a profoundly liberating and inspiring ally.
Now it’s time to see how the two can connect.