University of Texas Joins Harvard, MIT in edX Online Learning Venture

The state’s system brings nine universities and six health institutions to the online partnership.

Anant Agarwal, edX president

The University of Texas (UT) System today announced its affiliation with edX, the nonprofit Harvard-MIT online learning venture launched last May. The Texas decision, made public in Austin this morning, brings to four the number of edX partners: University of California, Berkeley joined in July, and is offering fall online courses on the edX platform, along with those taught by faculty from the two founding institutions. Harvard and MIT have thus attracted the flagship research institution from the California public system and the entire University of Texas system to the edX platform, which is committed to open-source software and to pursuing a dual mission alluded to in the UT announcement: extending classes to a worldwide audience, and applying what is learned from online instruction to campus-based teaching and learning.

According to the UT release, Texas aims to:

  • offer at least four edX courses within the next year;
  • focus not only on global online learning, but also aim to "redesign general education courses and traditional entry-level courses that are too often made up of several hundred students." (Through its Institute for Transformational Learning, the announcement said, "the UT System plans to give students more options by offering courses that are customized to student needs. For example, the UT System plans to offer courses that use a combination of technology and face-to-face interaction, courses that allow students to manage their own time by accelerating through sections they have already mastered or spending more time on areas they find challenging, and fully online courses so students are not limited by their location."); and
  • offer courses through edX that will allow students to earn college credits toward a degree.

“Our goal through our partnership with edX is to better meet the learning needs of a wide range of students, raise graduation rates and cut the cost of higher education, all while maintaining our commitment to education of the highest quality,” said Gene Powell, chairman of the UT System Board of Regents.

Bloomberg reports that UT will invest $5 million in its edX efforts—and another $5 million to support design of online courses.

In affiliating as a system, Texas brings nine universities, including the Austin flagship campus, and six health institutions to edX. Among the participants scheduled to participate in a morning news conference were  UT System chancellor Francisco G. Cigorroa; regents chair Powell; edX president Anant Agarwal (an electrical engineering and computer-science professor at MIT whose course was the first tested on the edX platform); UT Austin president Bill Powers; and Steve Mintz, executive director of the UT System Institute for Transformational Learning. The institute, established earlier this year, was charged with establishing UT institutions as “world leaders in developing and implementing best-in-class resources for online learning”; expanding educational access and reducing costs; and promoting educational innovation throughout the UT system. It was allocated $50 million in funding by the Board of Regents, to make grants to support its goals. The grants are to be overseen by a national advisory board of experts on the science of learning, student engagement, online instruction, and assessment. Mintz, an historian of families and children, created the Digital History website, and has served as president of H-Net: Humanities and Social Services Online.

The new edX affiliation comes as other online-education enterprises race to sign partnership agreements with multiple higher-education institutions. In mid September, Coursera, a venture-capital-backed, for-profit company, announced 17 new partners, ranging from Brown, Columbia, and Emory to Ohio State, University of Florida, University of Pittsburgh, and Vanderbilt, bringing its roster of nonexclusive agreements to 33 institutions.

Of special interest to the University community, the two Harvardx courses being offered through edX this fall both went live today: CS50x, “Introduction to Computer Science,” and PH207x, “Health in Numbers: Quantitative Methods in Clinical and Public Health Research.” For background on the creation of CS50x and edX’s current operations, see “Classroom in the Cloud,” prepublished from the November-December 2012 issue of Harvard Magazine. For background on the public-health course, see this Harvard School of Public Health story.

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