UW partners with not-for-profit edX to offer free online courses

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In another attempt to help expand university-level instruction access on a wide scale, the University of Washington announced a new partnership Tuesday with edX, an online learning platform founded by MIT and Harvard that provides Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs.

MOOCs are online courses that use streamed lectures, auto-graded exams and peer-led collaboration to bring free courses from elite universities to remote and non-traditional students around the world.

Using the sub-name UWashingtonX, the UW will offer four MOOCs on edX beginning in January 2014, joining other edX partners like Berkeley, Georgetown and Cornell, among other top schools across the globe.

The partnership is not the UW’s first experience with this kind of online learning, as the university began free distribution of 14 courses this academic year through Coursera, the online education platform started by Stanford Computer Science Professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng.

aocxmc833hdggk37o3ctIn most cases, these courses are not for credit, but students taking UW Courseras can also upgrade to a paid version that offers access to professors and a for-credit option. The new edX partnership will function similarly to the Coursera model.

But unlike Coursera, edX is a not-for-profit platform focused on gathering information about online student demographics, especially in regard to technology. David Szatmary, vice provost for education outreach at the UW, said the research will provide an opportunity to better understand how online students learn and how to best serve them.

“EdX has the vision to research and increase online learning both for online-hybrid learners and on-campus learning,” he said. “The MOOC provides all sorts of data from thousands of people so we’re hoping we can learn a bit from our partnership.”

Szatmary said the completion rate of UW Coursera courses is only about five percent, but added that finishing courses wasn’t necessarily the point. With 70 percent of MOOC enrollments coming from international students, he thought it was a great way to expand the UW’s scope.

“Think of a MOOC as an advanced textbook with a lot of peer-to-peer activity,” he said. ”The idea really is to provide broad access to the resources of the institution.”

Using what the UW has already learned from the Coursera courses, Szatmary said the edX partnership will help the university focus even more on how online learning operates.

“We’re very interested in doing more research about online learning so we can be at the cutting edge and offer a high quality product,” he said. “We’re interested in getting large numbers and then using edX to do research on what works and what doesn’t work with all of their data analytics.”

Alisa Reznick is a University of Washington student working as an editorial intern at GeekWire this quarter. Reach her at alisa@geekwire.com or on Twitter @AlisaReznick.