Back in May, I wrote about the new edX partnership, formed by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to provide a platform for Internet-based course offerings. At the time, Harvard and MIT expressed the hope that other institutions would choose to participate and offer courses at edX, too.
Today, an article in The Washington Post reports that Georgetown University, here in Washington DC, is the latest to join the effort. The University of California, Berkeley, joined earlier this year, and has some course offerings already; the University of Texas and Wellesley College have joined more recently. The newer members plan to offer courses by next year.
As I mentioned in that earlier post, there is an experimental component to the edX venture. One of the objectives of the participating institutions. The site’s software includes a large assortment of analytical tools for measuring the effectiveness of different presentation tools and instructional methods, based on students’ interaction with the system. (Think about how much Google, or Facebook, learns about you.) The institutions hope this will help them make their offerings better.
As the Post article points out, these are still early days in the development of so-called Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). At present, the offerings of the non-profit edX project and its for-profit competitor, Coursera, are free of charge, but also free of credit toward a degree. I don’t think anyone has a clear idea of what the long-term economic model for these offerings should be. Institutions like Harvard and MIT obviously charge substantial sums for their conventional, on-campus course offerings (though those, of course, do count for a degree). It’s not at all clear, at present, how that will all be sorted out.
Nonetheless, I can’t regard these developments as anything but positive. Although education is not the panacea that politicians’ speeches suggest, it is a powerful force for progress, and these efforts make educational opportunities available to many people around the world who would never otherwise have a chance to get them.