edX to Partner with Local Community Colleges

Harvard and MIT’s joint online learning venture edX announced Tuesday morning that it would combine virtual and in-person learning as it expands to two local community colleges.

Beginning in spring, Bunker Hill Community College in Charlestown and MassBay Community College’s greater Boston campuses will offer a modified version of edX’s “Introduction to Computer Science and Programming,” an online class based on MIT’s introductory computer science course. In-class instruction and mentoring at MassBay and Bunker Hill will supplement the online course taught by three MIT professors.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is supporting the collaboration with a million-dollar grant.

EdX, financed by $30 million investments from Harvard and MIT, was first announced last May as an online platform that would allow anyone in the world to enroll virtually in a select set of the universities’ courses for free. The organization has since announced expansions to include the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Texas system. Hundreds of thousands of people around the world have enrolled in the nine current courses, including 120,000 in Harvard’s Computer Science 50x: “Introduction to Computer Science I,” an online version of the popular on-campus offering CS50.

MIT and San Jose State University already offer a combination of online and campus learning, edX President Anant Agarwal pointed out. In both cases, Agarwal said, “we’ve had a fair bit of success.”

He said that edX’s partnership with community colleges will help resolve the flaws of entirely virtual education while preserving its benefits.

“At the end of the day, the purely online experience doesn’t capture the in-person interaction that we all care about,” said Agarwal, an MIT professor. “We really, really have to understand the blended model of learning.”

He said that edX would look to further expand its online offerings while also promoting blended courses, particularly at community colleges.

“We haven’t had a big innovation in education for hundreds of years,” Agarwal said, adding that he believes the blended model is “that next big step.”

The courses at MassBay and Bunker Hill will be taught by the community colleges’ professors using materials developed by edX.

“The current plan is to blend their experience with ours and have a hybrid class,” said MassBay spokesperson Jeremy E. Solomon. “We believe it is a formula that will work well into the future.”

Beginning in January, both Bunker Hill and MassBay will grant normal credit and charge standard tuition to the 20 students in each of their pilot courses, according to a statement from edX spokesperson Dan O’Connell.

“EdX has proven to be a global leader in online education,” said Solomon. “We are blending their online expertise with our faculty, who experience teaching community college students.”

—Staff writer Samuel Y. Weinstock can be reached at sweinstock@college.harvard.edu.

Tags