EdX Continues to Impress

Recent expansion of the program is laudable

Earlier this year, Harvard joined with MIT to launch edX as a platform on which the universities could offer high-quality education to a population beyond the Charles River. At the time, we welcomed this demonstrable commitment to making learning accessible to a wider range of individuals. In this vein, we were excited to hear the recent news that the program has partnered with two Massachusetts community colleges to add an in-person component to its online courses in computer science.

In its brief history, edX has been in a period of constant expansion. So far, it has already broadened its reaches to include the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Texas. The recent involvement of Bunker Hill and MassBay Community Colleges proves that distance education need not be limited to four-year universities. In fact, we believe that edX has the ability to continue innovating in the realm of inclusive higher education.

Unfortunately, efforts to address the issues plaguing higher education in this country focus too often on four-year institutions. While the needs of these students are undoubtedly important, we must not forget those who, whether by choice or circumstance, attend schools of a different caliber. Community colleges, which offer two years of public education for community members, have a role to play in the evolving standards of American education.

Three years ago, President Obama proposed a $12-billion 10-year plan designed to produce five million new community college graduates. While the sputtering economic recovery impelled the president to modify his proposal to an $8-billion 3-year job training stopgap, it is heartening to see a leader who recognizes the value of the varied forms of higher education. Community colleges support an underserved clientele, and we commend any and all efforts to bolster the resources available to their administrators, teachers, and students.

The particulars of the edX partnership are also praiseworthy. While edX was initially rolled out as a limited selection of online course samplings, the new initiative pairs the virtual lectures with in-class instructors and personal mentors. While the future of education may reside on the World Wide Web, there remain undeniable benefits to an interactive learning environment. We recognize this as an unexpected and encouraging step in the progression of the still nascent program. It is impossible to predict with future of learning with total accuracy, and we appreciate the openness edX has shown toward innovation.

The future of the edX platform is bright, and we possess neither the insight nor the foresight to gauge its ultimate impact. We are excited about the wide range of possibilities it offers to a broadening population. When the program was announced, the process of disseminating knowledge changed for the better. This process is in constant transformation, and we eagerly look forward to finding out where it ends up. There is no doubt that Harvard and the edX program will have major roles to play in leading the way.