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What is edX?

Answering common questions about MIT and Harvard’s new partnership in online education.

This set of FAQs accompanies the May 2, 2012, announcement regarding edX.

What is edX?
An organization established by MIT and Harvard University that will develop an open-source technology platform to deliver online courses. EdX will support Harvard and MIT faculty in conducting research on teaching and learning on campus through tools that enrich classroom and laboratory experiences. 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.

What are MITx and Harvardx?
Portfolios of MIT and Harvard online courses offered to learners around the world through edX.

What technology will edX use?
An open-source online learning platform that will feature teaching designed specifically for the Web. Features will include: self-paced learning, online discussion groups, wiki-based collaborative learning, assessment of learning as a student progresses through a course, and online laboratories. The platform will also serve as a laboratory from which data will be gathered to better understand how students learn. Because it is open-source, the platform will be improved continuously.

Is there anything innovative about the online technology?
Yes. It will move beyond the standard model of online education that relies on watching video content and will offer an interactive experience for students. And the technology will be open-source; other universities will be able to leverage the innovative technology to create their own online offerings.

Why are MIT and Harvard doing this?
To improve education on campus and around the world:
  • On campus, edX research will enhance our understanding of how students learn and how technologies can best be used as part of our larger efforts to improve teaching and learning.
  • Beyond our campuses, edX will expand access to education, allow for certificates of mastery to be earned by able learners, and make the open-source platform available to other institutions.
Why did Harvard and MIT decide to partner with each other?
We share a vision for greater access to education. Based on our long history of collaboration, we know we can leverage our strengths to best serve the world.

How is this different from what other universities are doing online?
EdX will be entirely our universities’ shared educational missions. Also, a primary goal of edX is to improve teaching and learning on campus by supporting faculty from both universities in conducting significant research on how students learn.

Who will lead edX?
EdX is a priority for the leadership of both Harvard and MIT, and it will be governed by a board made up of key leaders from both institutions, appointed by each university’s president. Anant Agrawal, director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, will be the initial president of edX and will report to the board.

Does the effort have a staff?
EdX is a significant undertaking that will require significant resources. The full scope of the staff has not been determined, but there will be a staff dedicated to the initiative.

Who can take edX courses? Will there be an admissions process?
EdX will be available to anyone in the world with an Internet connection, and in general, there will not be an admissions process. For a modest fee — and as determined by the edX board, MIT and Harvard — credentials will be granted only to students who earn them by demonstrating mastery of the material of a subject.

Will the certificates be awarded by Harvard and/or MIT?
As determined by the edX board, MIT and Harvard, online learners who demonstrate mastery of subjects could earn a certificate of completion, but such certificates would not be issued under the name of Harvard or MIT.

What will the scope of the online courses be? How many? Which faculty?
Our goal is to offer a wide variety of courses across disciplines.  

Will Harvard and MIT students be able to take these courses for credit?
No. MITx and Harvardx courses will not be offered for credit at either university. The online content will be used to extend and enrich on-campus courses.

How will success be measured?
Progress in student-learning research and the demand for online courses will both be measured as indications of success. However, a plan for measuring the full success of edX will be developed in consultation with faculty from MIT and Harvard.

Who is the learner? Domestic or international? Age range?
Improving teaching and learning for students on our campuses is one of our primary goals. Beyond that, we don’t have a target group of potential learners, as the goal is to make these courses available to anyone in the world — from any demographic — who has interest in advancing their own knowledge. The only requirement is to have a computer with an Internet connection.

Many institutions are partnering in this space. Is the MIT/Harvard partnership exclusive? Will other institutions be able to collaborate with edX?
It is our intention that over time other universities will join MIT and Harvard in offering courses on the edX platform. The gathering of many universities’ educational content together on one site will enable learners worldwide to access the course content of any participating university from a single website, and to use a set of online educational tools shared by all participating universities.  

Will MIT and Harvard standards apply here?
The reach changes exponentially, but the rigor remains the same.

How do you intend to test whether this approach is improving learning?
Both institutions have assembled faculty who will look at data collection and analytical tools for assessing the results.

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