Rice to offer more online courses through edX


B.J. Almond

Rice to offer more online courses through edX

 Rice is one of six new global members of edX announced tonight

HOUSTON — (Feb. 20, 2013) — Rice University is one of six global higher education institutions that were announced tonight as new members of the online education provider edX.

Rice and Australian National University, Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland and Canada’s McGill University and University of Toronto have committed to provide courses on edX.org, the not-for-profit online learning enterprise founded by Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“Each of these schools was carefully selected for the distinct expertise they bring to our growing family of edX institutions,” said Anant Agarwal, president of edX. “We have had an international student community from the very beginning, and bringing these leading universities from North America, Europe and the Asia Pacific into the edX organization will help us meet the tremendous demand we are experiencing.” Based in Cambridge, Mass., edX has more than 700,000 people currently enrolled in courses worldwide.

EdX is the second online education provider that Rice has joined as part of the university’s growing interest in making technology-based learning accessible to people all over the world. Last July Rice became a partner with Coursera, and the university’s first massive open online course (MOOC), an eight-week computer programming class, drew more than 80,000 registered students.

“We’re proud to be early members of both Coursera and edX,” Rice President David Leebron said. “We see different strengths in the two strategies and platforms, and expect both to learn and to contribute a great deal to both. Rice intends to be a significant participant in the online learning space, not only in providing the very best quality in courses (our first MOOC was rated the best in the country), but also in developing the best adaptive learning technologies.”

MOOCs typically focus on offering a variety of online courses inexpensively or for free to huge audiences. EdX’s vision is to build an open source educational platform and network of the world’s top universities to improve education both online and on campus while also conducting research on how students learn.

For example, edX monitors different approaches to presenting information for a particular course and evaluates students’ performance to see which method is more effective. EdX also monitors whether students watch videos, how long they watch and how many attempts it takes for them to provide correct answers to questions. The results of such research will be shared with the edX schools.

“The edX platform is being developed as open source software, which will give Rice the opportunity to integrate its learning analytics tools being provided by Rice’s OpenStax Tutor,” said Rice Provost George McLendon. “Learning analytics tools enable students and instructors to track their progress in real time more effectively than the traditional course grade book. Learning analytics can also be used to provide personalized learning for each student by suggesting topics that need remediation or enrichment. Improved learning across the board will result.”

OpenStax Tutor (openstaxtutor.org) is being developed in Rice’s Center for Digital Learning and Scholarship under the direction of Richard Baraniuk, the Victor E. Cameron Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. He said the tools provide a “learning dashboard” for students and faculty.

Rice has agreed to provide at least four courses on edX during its first year with the program, said Caroline Levander, vice provost for interdisciplinary initiatives, who is responsible for overseeing the courses’ successful development and the development of Rice’s digital learning strategy. She recently issued a call for course proposals to faculty and said the response has been strong. “Our faculty want to see how these platforms can enhance their teaching,” she said.

Levander will convene a faculty committee that will identify which courses Rice will offer and the faculty who will teach them. The courses are scheduled to begin in the fall.

Courses offered by institutions on the edX platform provide the same rigor as on-campus classes but are designed to take advantage of the unique features and benefits of online and blended learning environments. Rice professors might have their on-campus students take advantage of the edX course for homework so the students can have a discussion of the material in the classroom.

Online learners who demonstrate mastery of subjects can earn a certificate of mastery at the discretion of edX and the university that offered the course. There is no fee to take courses.

The gathering of many universities’ educational content together on one site is intended to enable learners worldwide to access the course content of any participating university from a single website, and to use a set of online educational tools shared by all participating universities.

EdX launched in May 2012. The six new members announced today double the size of edX’s membership. In addition to the founding universities MIT and Harvard, members include the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Texas System, Wellesley College and Georgetown University. All courses are hosted from edX’s platform at www.edx.org.

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Located on a 300-acre forested campus in Houston, Rice University is consistently ranked among the nation’s top 20 universities by U.S. News & World Report. Rice has highly respected schools of Architecture, Business, Continuing Studies, Engineering, Humanities, Music, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences and is home to the Baker Institute for Public Policy. With 3,708 undergraduates and 2,374 graduate students, Rice’s undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio is 6-to-1. Its residential college system builds close-knit communities and lifelong friendships, just one reason why Rice has been ranked No. 1 for best quality of life multiple times by the Princeton Review and No. 2 for “best value” among private universities by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance. To read “What they’re saying about Rice,” go to http://tinyurl.com/AboutRiceU.

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About B.J. Almond

B.J. Almond is senior director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.