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Saying ‘No’ To EdX

This is a lecturehall in the Stewart Science Hall on the Waynesburg University campus in Waynesburg, Pa. (AP)

This is a lecturehall in the Stewart Science Hall on the Waynesburg University campus in Waynesburg, Pa. (AP)

One of the biggest online ventures in higher education got even bigger today. Fifteen more colleges and universities, including Boston University and Berklee College of Music, have joined EdX — the not-for-profit online initiative launched a year ago by MIT and Harvard.

A lofty vision, to say the least. But the sentiment isn’t shared on every campus in America.

On certain campuses, a growing number of faculty believe that free, open, online-courses for hundreds of thousands of students may actually harm higher education. Amherst College is one of those places. The faculty recently voted against joining EdX.


Stephen George, professor of neuroscience and biology at Amherst College.


Boston Globe “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.”

New Yorker “Many people think that moocs are the future of higher education in America. In the past two years, Harvard, M.I.T., Caltech, and the University of Texas have together pledged tens of millions of dollars to mooc development. Many other élite schools, from U.C. Berkeley to Princeton, have similarly climbed aboard. Their stated goal is democratic reach.”

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  • WBUR Fan

    The fact that edX provides a platform that is capable of supporting MOOCs does not mean that it cannot be used to support other models of online instruction that are neither “massive” nor “open”. The media fixation with MOOCs (and the fact that WBUR is fueling that fixation) is unfortunate. Why not focus on the many that a platform such as edX can make face-to-face instruction that much better?!  Why focus on MOOCs when the press release announcing the latest expansion of edX went out of its way to talk about the importance that edX and its new members attribute to hybrid/blended forms of instruction, for example?

    • Meghna Chakrabarti

      Hi Fan — Your point is very well taken. The future is almost certainly a blend of online and in person education. We chose to have Professor George on the program this day because we’ve heard edX supporters frequently on the program. The initiative’s latest expansion seemed a good moment to hear from those educators who have concerns about MOOCs, as their perspective hadn’t been adequately aired on our program before.

      However, to your point about hybrid education — this is exactly one of the areas we explored with Anant Agarwal (edX director) when we had him on the show last year. I certainly hope it’s the future! Thanks for listening.

      • WBUR Fan

        Thank you. Indeed “balance” is how I interpreted what you are trying to do — and it is good to have balance. My point — which you agree with — is that an online educational platform such as edX should not be viewed as synonymous to MOOCs. It would be nice for the media to disassociate the two — at least to avoid the knee-jerk reaction of “throwing the baby out with the bath water”. MOOCs may or may not be good, but creatively leveraging online educational technology — especially when driven by educators (as opposed to Wall Street) which is the case with edX – can only be good. It is on that count that I believe the Amherst College Faculty decision to be unfortunate.  Making this distinction is important to counter the media hype (and the resulting over-reaction and fear in some quarters) about MOOCs.

        • WBUR Fan

          PS: I would have been happier with the title of the segment being “Saying no to MOOCs”  as opposed to “Saying no to edX”.

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