Mon, Jun 17, 2013 - Page 9 News List

The rise in online universities, making education borderless

By Anant Agarwal  /  The Observer, LONDON

So how many people are we reaching? We were overwhelmed by the response to our pilot course in early last year on circuits and electronics — 155,000 students from 162 countries signed up. This sent a clear signal that the world was ready for online education and hungry for knowledge. We now have 1 million students from 192 countries. Delivering knowledge to otherwise excluded populations is just part of what MOOC providers do to change education. Research is another.

EdX and its partner universities are using the data we collect throughout a class to research how students learn most effectively, and then apply that knowledge to both online learning and traditional on-campus teaching. At MIT and Harvard, researchers David Pritchard, Lori Breslow and Andrew Ho have been studying how people learn. Pritchard computes that the data from the first prototype course alone — one my colleagues and I taught on circuits and electronics — is staggering and would fill 110,000 books. We recorded every click. All 230 million of them.

Using the data we gathered, we found that more than half of our students in the circuits and electronics class started working on their homework before watching video lectures. It appears that students get more excited about learning when they try to puzzle out a problem. In such classes, we are now looking at whether professors should assign homework before the lecture, instead of after.

Another way technology has driven these revolutionary changes in education is through using artificial intelligence to help teachers effectively assess students’ work. Last month, we unveiled our experimental assessment tool, which combines artificial intelligence assessment, peer assessment and self-assessment, to provide professors with the tools to grade open-ended questions in a massively scaled environment. We also piloted cohort technology on our platform, which is a way for instructors to divide the large discussion forums into smaller, more intimate sub-groups.

We are part of a movement that seeks to change the face of education. In April, we announced that our entire learning platform would be released as an open source on June 1, and that Stanford University, along with Berkeley, MIT, Harvard and others, would start collaborating with us to continue to improve the platform.

We are looking forward to universities and developers everywhere contributing to and enhancing the platform that powers our edX courses. If you are interested you can access our source code here: http://code.edx.org.

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