X Marks The Spot For MIT Online Ed

By Jordan Weinstein

Dec. 19, 2011

BOSTON — On Dec. 19, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced a new online academic platform called MITx. 
Provost Rafael Reif, who will direct the new program, said it goes well beyond the scope of the popular OpenCourseWare site, which publishes course materials online. Instead, “it’s a whole online learning initiative.”
Like OCW, the MITx platform will be free, Reif said. Other educational institutions can modify the open-source app as they see fit.
Unlike OCW, MITx will include access to online labs, self-assessments and student-to-student discussions. Students will have the option to demonstrate that they have learned the material in a course and to then earn a credential for it. MIT may charge a modest fee for that credential.
It may even feature automated grading of student essays — an area where MIT research is “moving incredibly rapidly,” Reif said.
Beyond individual learning, however, MITx is an experiment to develop best practices in crafting effective online classes. “The aspiration is to use online learners as a huge lab where we can experiment with new tools as we develop them and understand what works best,” he said.
That said, despite all the excitement, Reif was hesitant to forecast the end of the traditional college experience. “I just cannot really imagine a world in which the virtual learning can completely replicate an on-campus, residential model,” he said. But, he added, 50 years down the road, who knows.

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