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First University System Joins edX Platform

The University of Texas System plans to offer large online courses through the nonprofit, open source edX platform.

Huge online courses will be coming to the University of Texas System next year, the system announced Monday, Oct. 15.

With this news, the University of Texas System becomes the first university system to throw in its hat with edX, a not-for-profit enterprise started by Harvard and MIT in May 2012. By partnering with edX, the University of Texas' nine campuses and six health institutions will develop massively open online courses (MOOCs). These courses allow anyone around the world to participate, draw large numbers of students and do not charge participants to take the course.

"Our partnership with edX will help us provide that high-quality education, make it more efficient, make it more accessible and make us more affordable," said Gene Powell, Board of Regents chairman.

The university system decided to offer massively open online courses to provide maximum options to students, said system Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa. Current students and alumni — as well as anyone else who wants to — will be able to take courses from edX institutions. These institutions include MIT, Harvard, UC Berkeley and the University of Texas System. While they won't get credit for the course, they will get a grade and a certificate of completion from that campus if they finish.

"We wanted to join the world of MOOCs, and we felt that if we joined with edX, we'd leapfrog into a great orbit of excellence," Cigarroa said.

But this isn't something the university system jumped on overnight. Nineteen months ago, the Board of Regents created two task forces to improve the system's excellence, access and affordability of higher education. One of these task forces looked into blended and online learning. As a result of its research, blended and online learning made it into the chancellor's framework, and the Institute for Transformational Learning was created.

"Higher education is at a crossroads," said Steve Mintz, executive director of the Institute for Transformational Learning in the University of Texas System. "But by leveraging new technologies, we can enhance student learning, we can accelerate graduation, and we can hold down the cost of higher ed."

EdX, Coursera and Udacity all provide platforms for these types of courses. But the University of Texas System chose edX for a number of reasons, Cigarroa said:

  • The organization aligns with the mission and vision of the Institute for Transformational Learning;
  • The system protects the intellectual property of faculty and the university;
  • Faculty can modify and contribute to the course development;
  • The system has access to the platform's foundation code.
Existing online course partnerships with other organizations including Academic Partnerships can continue as well. And this will be more of a partner relationship with edX rather than a vendor relationship.

The chancellor stressed that the massively open online courses will be of high quality and will be offered along with existing blended and online learning options the system already has for its students. In fact, some of the massively open online courses can be offered in a blended format on campus. In these classes, students would watch recorded lectures and participate in the forums, but also have in-class discussions and one-on-one time with professors.

In the summer and fall of 2013, the University of Texas system plans to offer at least four classes through the open-source platform that edX provides. Also, the system will pay $5 million to continue developing the platform and use the research analytics that comes with it. Another $5 million will go to edX so that its leaders can help faculty develop courses and understand how students learn better.

"We will keep 100 percent of our revenue," Powell said, "and in short, we will better meet the learning needs of a wider range of students."

This story was originally published on the Center for Digital Education website.