School of Public Health Launches Two New MOOCs

To address public confusion surrounding the Affordable Care Act and new applications of big data, the Harvard School of Public Health has developed two new courses slated to launch April 7 on HarvardX, the University’s open online education platform. One course will educate enrollees about the country’s health system while the other, more advanced course will build upon topics in genomics.

The first course, PH210x: “United States Health Policy,” will provide a broad survey of the country’s health system, including its structure and methods of delivering healthcare on the local, state, and federal levels.


John E. McDonough, a professor of the practice of public health at the school, will teach the course, which is targeted at the general public and will include an explanation of how the Affordable Care Act has impacted the American healthcare system. In addition, the course will feature guest lectures from “probably the richest collection of health policy experts and stars you’re going to find in any school of public health in the world,” McDonough said in a press release.

The other course, PH525x: “Data Analysis for Genomics,” will teach students how to apply the tools of modern genomic analysis to cell biology and clinical problems. It will be taught by Rafael A. Irizarry, professor of biostatistics at the School of Public Health, and Michael Love, a postdoctoral fellow.

Unlike “United States Health Policy,” the course requires programming skills, knowledge of "R" programming language, and completion of PH207x, which covers biostatistics and epidemiology, prior to enrollment. However, the new course will introduce the necessary new statistical concepts as part of the course material, according to the edX website.

“Many fields that previously relied on very basic data analysis are now being transformed with data sets that are pretty big and complicated,” Irizarry said in the press release. “Genetic epidemiology is one of the fields greatly affected by these huge data sets.”

Both courses are part of a growing number of courses on edX that can be either audited by registrants or taken for a “verified certificate of achievement,” which uses a webcam and the photo ID to verify a user’s identity, a service that incurs a fee. According to the edX website, employers and educational institutions sometimes seek proof of completion of online courses.

—Staff writer Michael V. Rothberg can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @mvrothberg.