Millions of people have signed up this year on various Web sites for massive, open online courses, or MOOCs, which offer self-paced learning through video lectures, tests, homework, discussion boards and other digital interfaces. Advocates say MOOCs will democratize higher education and spark a teaching revolution on campuses. Skeptics call it little more than brand promotion.
EdX, which Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology launched in May, hosts MOOCs from those schools and the University of California, Berkeley. The University of Texas system joined in October and Wellesley College last week. Like Georgetown, they plan to add MOOCs to edX next year.
Another MOOC platform, Coursera, which launched in April, hosts classes from Johns Hopkins University and the universities of Maryland and Virginia, as well as 30 other major U.S. and foreign institutions.
For Georgetown, the nation’s oldest Catholic university, securing an agreement to work with the site led by MIT and Harvard was a major coup. Two hundred colleges and universities have approached edX about possible partnerships. But the site’s leadership has been extremely selective.
“We would like to have the best courses from the best professors from the best universities,” edX President Anant Agarwal said. “Georgetown certainly brings that.”
Georgetown President John J. DeGioia, who helped oversee an accreditation review of Harvard a few years ago, said he and Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust began discussing MOOC ventures over the summer. DeGioia said it became clear that it would be possible to work with edX as he met with Agarwal at the Web site’s headquarters in Cambridge, Mass., in mid-September.
“We’re truly honored” to be invited to join edX, DeGioia said in an interview. He and Faust plan to announce the partnership Monday morning at a meeting of the Economic Club of Washington D.C.
Details of the arrangement, including financial terms and what online courses Georgetown will offer, remain to be settled. The university expects to build MOOCs in social sciences and humanities, drawing on strengths in areas such as international relations, law and public policy. The courses would launch by next fall.
Georgetown officials, echoing counterparts at U-Md., U-Va. and elsewhere, said they hope the MOOC experiments will shed light on how to improve campus instruction. What are called learning analytics — a data trove mined from student interaction with MOOCs — could provide rapid feedback to professors, enabling them to retool lectures and seminars.
“We’re all searching for the optimal blend of face-to-face experience and online experience,” said Robert Groves, the Georgetown provost. “And the world hasn’t figured that out yet.”