While Harvard University expected their initial free classes within the edX program to be quite popular, very few expected the 100,000 attendees that are signed up for the first two courses starting this Monday. That’s exactly what happened though as students from across the globe registered for the initial offering of computer science, epidemiology, and biostatistics through an online classroom.
For those who are not familiar with this program, Harvard University set out to change the course of online learning this summer with the formation of quite an interesting coalition with many of the top colleges and universities in the United States. Named edX, this teaching program offers completely free online college courses for anyone in the world, and without any types of prerequisites or requirements that similar programs have implemented. A certificate of completion is also offered for those who complete the coursework with a passing grade.
So why would one of the most prestigious universities in the nation provide interested students both near and far a completely free education? According to Harvard provost Alan Garber, it is to help better understand students from a variety of backgrounds and what types of approaches lead to more efficient learning.
“We really think that the first courses we offer will be great, but long term, the payoff is going to come from a better understanding about how people learn,” Garber said in a recent interview. “We view this as an incredible opportunity for us to ask deeper questions about how people learn and how we as a university help people to learn.”
In fact, faculty at Harvard are already questioning their teaching methods and if their goals ultimately align with the average student’s both on-campus and throughout the world. By taking a much closer look at what motivates students and how they can fairly be graded inside an online classroom, it opens numerous doors of possibility.
The other universities that are participating in edX so far are the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and University of California Berkley. Plans are already in the works to include final exams, essays, and other aspects of online college to attendees in this program both to make the courses more challenging and to give the student a better chance to prove their mastery of the subject. At this point, there are seven total courses being offered by the three campuses with many others already in planning stages. For more information on course offerings, visit the official edX website for details.