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edX adds Berklee, Boston University and a dozen more to online class initiative

Posted by Your Town  May 21, 2013 10:16 AM

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One year after Harvard University and MIT launched edX, a $60 million initiative in which colleges offer online classes at no charge, the not-for-profit company announced today that it is doubling the number of participating universities, including the Berklee College of Music and Boston University.

EdX said that 15 higher education institutions are joining the initiative from four continents, bringing the total number of schools to 27. Based in Cambridge, edX has more than 900,000 people using its platform and currently offers about 50 courses.

“It’s going like a rocket ship,” Anant Agarwal, president of edX, said in an interview today, noting that the initiative is growing so quickly, it has doubled its university membership again only three months after it doubled in February. The universities joining, he said, “all have a commitment to high-quality education, a commitment to increasing access to education for students around the world, and also improving campus education.”

Azer Bestavros, co-chair of BU’s council on educational technology and learning innovation, said that the university is required to offer five MOOCs, but the school also plans to create hybrid courses: for-credit classes that combine face-to-face interaction along with online work. The hybrid courses will be available within a couple years, and the MOOCs will be offered in the next year.

He said the university was drawn to edX because unlike its competitors, edX is not-for-profit, meaning BU can more easily adjust the platform to fit its needs.

Bestavros said that the hybrid edX courses will enrich the BU education. For example, these “blended” courses could enable more BU students with rigorous schedules to study abroad. He also forsees students who may feel uncomfortable participating in class to engage with their classmates online.

“We think it is a good fit, the fact that it is non-profit, and pushing the technology to make the residential experience better, and the freedom to use the platform in the way that makes sense for our institution trumped all other considerations,” he said.

Debbie Cavalier, vice president for online learning and continuing education at Berklee, said that part of the school’s mission is to provide music education to people across the world. For the past 11 years, the college has educated a range of students online, including retired doctors to professional musicians, such as Stefan Lessard, bassist for the Dave Matthews Band.

Cavalier also said that the college has a longstanding history of offering classes to those outside of the Berklee community. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, Berklee had a “correspondence course” in which students learned and communicated with their professor through the mail.

This past fall, the school partnered with Coursera to offer several classes, including an introductory improvisation course taught by seven-time Grammy winner Gary Burton.

Berklee will initially offer two classes on edX: the first in January 2014, then one in April 2014, Cavalier said. She expects the courses to be in music business and vocal production technologies, in which students record and produce vocal tracks.

For the vocal production course students will share their recorded clips with other students for critiques, Cavalier said. The music business classes will likely be based on a series of projects.

“We’re really honored to be a part of the edX community, and really look forward to expanding our reach and providing more opportunities to aspiring musicians through the edX platform,” she said.

In addition to BU and Berklee, colleges from Asia, Australia, Europe, and the US will partner with edX. The schools include: Tsinghua University in China, Kyoto University in Japan, The University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong University of Science & Technology in Hong Kong, Seoul National University in South Korea, and Peking University in China.

From the US, Cornell University, Davidson College, and University of Washington plan to offer courses through edX.

From Europe: Université catholique de Louvain in Belgium, the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, and the Technical University of Munich in Germany. The University of Queensland in Australia will also offer courses through the platform.

Agarwal describes seeing on one course’s discussion forum students from Pakistan, New Zealand, Columbia and the US all discussing a problem.

“I really see how online learning will democratize education, “ he said. “It will really bring the world closer together.”

Looking for more coverage of area colleges and universities? Go to our Your Campus pages.

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