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New school: Harvard’s Drew Faust and MIT’s Susan Hockfield announce edX.

In the early days of MIT, several attempts to merge the Institute with its neighbor up the river famously fell through. This spring, however, MIT and Harvard announced that they will join forces in an ambitious new partnership to deliver online education to learners anywhere in the world.

The new venture, called edX, will provide interactive classes from both universities—free—to anyone with an Internet connection. But a key goal of the project, Harvard president Drew Faust said, is “to enhance the educational experience of students who study in our classrooms and laboratories.” 

MIT president Susan Hockfield described edX as a “shared expedition to explore the frontiers of digital education.” The technological platform recently established by MITx, which will be the foundation for the new learning system, offers video lesson segments, embedded quizzes, immediate feedback, student-­ranked questions and answers, online labs, and student-paced learning. Certificates of mastery will be available for those who demonstrate knowledge of the material.

The online tools developed for edX will also supplement the lectures, seminars, and labs available to MIT’s and Harvard’s own students and will provide detailed data about how well different parts of lessons are understood and what areas may require further explanation. “Online education is not an enemy of residential education,” Hockfield said, “but, rather, an inspiring and liberating ally.”

EdX president Anant Agarwal, the former director of CSAIL, said edX will be “disruptive” and will “completely change the world.”

MIT and Harvard will offer their first edX courses this fall; over time, they expect other universities to join them in offering courses on the edX platform, which will also be released as open-source software.

EdX is “genuinely an experiment,” ­Hockfield said, “and we ourselves are prepared to learn.”

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Credit: Allegra Boverman

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