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edX to Supplement High School Advanced Placement Curriculum

By Amna H. Hashmi, Crimson Staff Writer

In its first explicit attempt to attract high school students, edX will collaborate with College Board and Davidson College professors to create online mini-courses in calculus, physics, and macroeconomics based on difficult topics in the Advanced Placement curriculum.

Davidson professors will analyze data from College Board to create the courses. EdX, the virtual learning platform founded over a year ago by Harvard and MIT, will provide the technological tools to make these courses available to high school students, who constitute five to ten percent of its learners.

“The College Board has a huge amount of data on AP scores, so Davidson scholars looked at the data and said where [students are] having the most difficulty on exams,” said edX President Anant Agarwal.

Davidson College joined edX as an institutional partner in May. According to Davidson College President Carol E. Quillen, the AP project was “a significant but not the only factor” in the decision to form a partnership.

“Several of our faculty work already with high school teachers in a variety of contexts,” Quillen said. “We believe that these new technology tools that Harvard and MIT are developing through edX would be incredibly powerful in helping us work more effectively with high school teachers in a range of ways.”

Patrick Sellers, a political science professor and associate dean for curriculum at Davidson who will be spearheading the AP project, said that the Davidson professors involved in the project have decades of experience in writing, grading, and helping high school instructors teach the AP exams.

“The modules will benefit Davidson in that the students that come to Davidson, and to Harvard, hopefully will have a better grounding in the fundamental concepts,” Sellers said. “If we can improve the baseline knowledge that all students have in calculus, that will make them better mathematicians, better physicists, better chemists, better biochemists, and better in more areas.”

Although these long-term benefits cannot be quantified right away, Sellers said, researchers hope to eventually collect data to measure whether these AP course modules yield improvements in exam scores.

The AP project will first be piloted next year in the nearby Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district before being made generally available online in 2015 through the edX platform and the AP Central website.

Quillen said she expects that the mini-courses can be used in a blended learning format, in which online materials would deliver the traditional class time instruction, allowing class time to be used for group problem solving activities and individual attention.

“When a high school AP calculus teacher decides to use the calculus module in this project, they will be able to assign the units to the students and also take advantage of the materials in that module for them to help them learn how to teach the concepts in the blended learning format,” Sellers said.

Agarwal described high school years as important and “particularly close to [his] own heart.”

“At the end of the day, if students don’t have the right background for college courses, they won’t get much out of it,” he said.

—Kristina D. Lorch and Conor J. Reilley contributed to the reporting of this story.

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