UC Berkeley joins Harvard and MIT not-for-profit online learning collaborative

UC Berkeley today (Tuesday, July 24) has joined edX, a not-for-profit, $60 million online learning initiative founded by Harvard University and MIT and launched last May. Two of the seven free courses to be offered on edX this fall will be UC Berkeley classes, and the campus will collaborate with edX to expand the number of universities that offer their courses on the edX platform. UC Berkeley also will serve as the inaugural chair of the to-be-formed “X University” Consortium.

edXIn a press release issued this morning by edX, Chancellor Birgeneau said the campus is “committed to excellence in online education and the dual goals of distributing higher education more broadly and enriching the quality of campus-based education.”

Anant Agarwal, president of edX, estimates that several hundred thousand people will sign up for edX classes. Armando Fox, an adjunct associate professor of computer science whose class, “Software Engineering for Software as a Service,” taught with David Patterson, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, will be among the seven offered on edX this fall, said that course already has been offered online and that some 5,000 students have completed it successfully.

The other “BerkeleyX” course to be offered on edX is  “Artificial Intelligence,” taught by assistant professor Pieter Abbeel, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science, and Dan Klein, associate professor of  electrical engineering and computer science.

A wide range of people worldwide will benefit from having these free online courses, said Fox and other faculty members. Single parents unable to afford tuition, residents of developing countries, community college students, UC Berkeley students who take a class online to better prepare for the classroom version, and professors at other colleges and universities who want to use UC Berkeley materials in their teaching are among those already taking advantage of the campus’s spectrum of online fare, they said.

“We’re flattered that professors at other schools worldwide don’t just think this is valuable material, but that it’s well-presented and compelling and polished enough to be presented as part of their classes,” said Fox.

“Our goal here is to reinvent education worldwide and on campus through these technologies,” said Agarwal in a teleconference this afternoon with Birgeneau, Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance John Wilton and Fox.

Yesterday, the chancellor sent a letter to the faculty, letting them know in advance of the announcement about UC Berkeley’s decision to partner with edX and calling the union “very favorable for Berkeley.”

“We have spent considerable time deciding the best direction for Berkeley for open courseware,” he wrote. “I have been in conversation for the last year with former Provost and now President of MIT, Rafael Reif, as well as more recently with Harvard President Drew Faust. Our own faculty, especially in EECS, have been actively engaged with their colleagues at MIT and Harvard. We share edX’s commitment to a not-for-profit and open-platform model and are excited at the possibility of providing courses and new open-source software to the partnership.”

“Participation in mass open online courses is only one of the many initiatives in online education that we are — or expect to be — undertaking as we continue to develop our aspirations and strategies for online education at Berkeley,” the chancellor wrote. “Our partnership with edX is fully aligned with the Principles of UC Berkeley’s Online Education Strategy and our commitment to access and excellence.”

The seven edX courses to be offered this fall are in the sciences, but “over time, we certainly have plans to offer courses in all disciplines,” Agarwal told reporters. Birgeneau added that the online courses “will be faculty-driven, and the faculty will have the ultimate decision if the courses they teach are suitable for this medium.”

Wilton said UC Berkeley views the edX online courses as “part of the campus’s spectrum of online offerings that have different purposes and callings, both off-campus and on-campus.”

Students who take the edX courses will learn at the same pace, with the same rigor and from the same professors as their on-campus counterparts and take the same quizzes and tests. If they successfully complete a class, they will receive a free certificate of mastery, but Anant said that a small charge for that document may be required in the future.

Further reading:

Early media coverage of the partnership: