What's Next for edX?

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In May of 2012, Harvard and MIT joined forces to create edX, an online learning initiative aimed at developing a new, interactive learning experience specifically for the Internet. With MITx, MIT’s new online learning model, serving as the technical platform, Harvard, MIT and Berkeley are currently offering courses taught by practicing faculty members through an online portal that features video lesson segments, embedded quizzes, immediate feedback, online laboratories and student-paced learning. 
IAP News, the quarterly newsletter published for members of CSAIL’s Industry Affiliates Program (IAP), recently sat down with Professor and CSAIL Principal Investigator Anant Agarwal, president of edX and former director of CSAIL, to discuss the future of edX and why online education will become increasingly important for industry. 
IAP News: Do you see online education becoming an increasingly useful tool for professional development?
Anant Agarwal: Absolutely. I used to teach a parallel computing course as part of the MIT School of Engineering’s summer program in the early 90s, and I would get around 50 engineers from around the country who would come in and take a one or two-week course. Usually they would have to travel to MIT to take the course. With online learning and edX, it becomes very easy. Students can take the course from wherever they are. They don’t even have to leave their company for a week or two weeks, they can take courses in the evenings or on the weekends, and it is much, much more flexible.
IAP: What was one of the most surprising things you noticed when you launched MITx’s pilot course, 6.002x Circuits and Electronics?
AA: The most surprising thing was the extent to which the students were helping each other. Our staff was about the same size as the staff we use for a corresponding 100-person class at MIT and here we had over 150,000 learners registered for the course, so we were really worried about how we were going to handle questions from this large group of people. What was surprising was the extent to which students were helping each other. A student would ask a question and virtually all of the time other students would answer the question. Many students commented that they actually learned better by teaching.
IAP: Do you think the community environment is what sets edX apart from other online education providers?
AA: I think for anyone to offer courses online, they need to build a community. I don’t think it’s unique to edX. As an example, when the 6.002x course ended we were going to turn off the discussion forum so we could refresh the course for the next offering, but the students had formed a community that bonded together and they wanted to continue as a community. They requested that we support the forum so they could continue as a group doing other stuff. Now the discussion forum is a live group and they are studying other courses.
In fact, some of them got together and they are teaching themselves 6.003z, which corresponds to the MIT Signals and Systems course, using the same online discussion forum and working through the course themselves. They wanted us (edX) to offer the course and when we were not able to offer 6.003x they picked up the material from OpenCourseWare and they are teaching it to themselves.
IAP: Why would you encourage someone to take a course with edX?
AA: EdX will not only dramatically increase access to education for students worldwide, but also it will increase access to education even for our on campus students. For example, we had a pilot group of about 20 students who were beta testers within MIT taking the 6.002x course. Many of them were from different departments and had been unable to take the course before because a required course from their major discipline conflicted with the timings of 6.002. Because 6.002x was offered online and the timing was flexible, they were able to take the course. In this way, edX has increased access to educational opportunities for our own MIT students, as it will give them more flexibility and variety.
Similarly, it offers more access to students worldwide. It offers access to rigorous education, rigorous courses that they might not find within their own schools or other educational institutions. For professionals, it is a chance to refresh their skills and to be taught by the same professors that are teaching the course at elite universities like MIT, Harvard and Berkeley and so on.
For more information on edX, please visit: https://www.edx.org/.

Abby Abazorius, CSAIL