“edX will support Harvard and MIT faculty in conducting research on teaching and learning on campus through tools that enrich classroom and laboratory experiences,” according to MIT’s site. “At the same time, edX will also reach learners around the world through online course materials. The edX website will begin by hosting MITx and Harvardx content, with the goal of adding content from other universities interested in joining the platform. edX will also support the Harvard and MIT faculty in conducting research on teaching and learning.”
Back in December, MIT had already revealed the creation of Web-based courses that feature discussion forums, short videos, and laboratory simulations, which are all under the supervision of MIT professors and teaching assistants. So technically, Harvard will just be joining MIT in their effort.
But aside from offering free, online classes, the two aim to conduct research as to how students learn online by monitoring the progress of the hundreds of thousands of people they hope will sign up for classes.
“We are dedicated to learning more about how students acquire information and apply it, how they master a subject — in other words, how people learn,” said Alan Garber, Harvard’s provost. “This gives us an opportunity to collect data that simply hasn’t existed. How much time do students spend with different elements? Do people who go back and repeat a video segment learn better, or worse?”
The free online courses offered, as well as the resulting research, will help the two institutions make improvements on their courses for their paying students. Both believe that the joint effort would enhance their institutions rather than weaken it.
“This is not about diluting or not diluting,” said Rafael Reif, MIT’s provost. “This is about giving our students the best education possible. At the same time, once we have the content online, we might as well share it with the world.”
Though this is a joint venture, edX will operate as an independent entity from Harvard and MIT. The two institutions would both shell out $30 million each and would both provide faculty and resources for edX.
Some were surprised by the partnership, as Harvard and MIT have very different cultures. Some thought that a better option for such an offering would be Stanford University, since they’re considered as the pioneer of large-scale, free college education online.
“Wow. Wow. Huge,” said Debra Satz, a Stanford University philosophy professor who has followed that university’s online efforts, upon hearing of Harvard’s plans. “I’m a bit surprised that Harvard is doing this with MIT. They have very different cultures. If anything, maybe I had hoped that Stanford and MIT would collaborate.”