Harvard, MIT Leaders Discuss Online Initiative

By Jared Bowen

May 2, 2012

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — From anywhere in the world, you’ll soon be able to receive a Harvard or MIT education for free. The two Cambridge institutions announced on May 2 that they've teamed up for a $60 million online initiative making higher education available for all — and school officials are saying it's a game-changer.
The project, named edX, will offer as-yet-unknown courses on-ine and free of charge. “Anyone with an internet connection, anywhere in the world can have access,” said Drew Faust, president of Harvard University, at the announcement. Joining her was MIT president Susan Hockfield, who said, “You can choose to view this era as one threatening change and unsettling volatility or you can see it as a moment with the most exciting possibilities presented to educators in our lifetimes."
Acknowledging that higher education has alreadymoved well beyond the confines of traditional classrooms, the universities will also use edX for their own research purposes to study how students learn. “We can begin to ask questions about how well [students] acquire and apply the information months after a course has ended,” said Harvard provost Alan Garber.
Enthusiastic as MIT and Harvard were to launch edX, they were still surprised to see how many participants their prototype class drew. That was roughly 120,000 registrants —slightly less than the number of living MIT alumni, Hockfield said, concluding, “MIT students, students at campuses all over the world, are using online materials to supplement what they’re learning through this more standard residential learning environment.”
Each enrolled student who passes an edX class will receive a grade and a completion certificate. And while there may be few classes to start, both universities hope other colleges around the world will jump in and join them on the edX platform. Which means access to education could be about to reach unparalleled heights.

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