Massachusetts community colleges are exploring how an MITx course will work for their students.
MassBay and Bunker Hill community colleges plan to offer an adapted version of the Introduction to Computer Science and Programming course in spring 2013. This course is part of university offerings on edX, which provides a platform for universities to open courses with no fee to large numbers of students. These massively open online courses, MOOCs for short, have exploded this year as more universities partner with edX, Udacity, Coursera, 2U and other platform providers.
"What Harvard and MIT have done in spinning off edX I think is a major step in bringing further democracy to education, not just in America, but in the world," said John O'Donnell, president of MassBay Community College.
In 20 years, people will look back on the edX model and say that it helped change the structure of higher education, O'Donnell said.
With a $1 million Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant, the community colleges and edX are working together to see how students do with the challenging course. Faculty members at the two colleges will evaluate the course, tailor it to their students needs and see how students respond.
E-learning options are important because they provide higher education access to students who have complex lives, O'Donnell said. And as more K-12 and higher education institutions share content and knowledge online, students will need to understand how to learn in these environments.
The MassBay course, called "Practical Python Programming" will use the edX curriculum and virtual tools, including online videos, exercises, homework and tests. But it will also require students to spend 1.5 hours in class on campus so faculty members can help them master the material.
"The blended option allows us to explore both the communication of content and assessment online with what is so key to community college faculty members, and that is the one-on-one interaction with students, the facilitation of learning, the tutoring, the mentoring," O'Donnell said.
With a 14-year history in online learning, Bunker Hill Community College now has 4,000 online students, eight online degrees and seven or eight online certificates. The online initiative was going along well, but when MIT approached the college, the executive team wanted to see if an MITx class would make their efforts even stronger, college President Mary Fifield said.
Current students are tied to technology and used to things being interactive, quick and entertaining. And colleges that can simulate those dynamics will interest more students in education, Fifield said.
This experiment will help Bunker Hill Community College decide whether it will modify its other online offerings after the dynamic, interactive attraction of massively open online courses.
"I hope to learn what it is about MOOCs — whether it's this one particular edX course or others — that engage students or can engage students, and help them to persist and be more successful than a typical standard online course."