Adaptive learning is the use of data-driven tools to design coursework that responds to individual students’ abilities. Courses featuring adaptive technology typically use assessments to constantly adjust content, giving students extra help to master difficult concepts or to skip ones they already understand.
HarvardX for Allston (or AllstonX)
HarvardX for Allston, presented officially as part of the community benefits package to Allston-Brighton residents, is a collaboration between HarvardX and the Harvard Allston Education Portal. The aim is to bring the local community together with live events that are also livestreamed to learners from around the world. HarvardX for Allston intends to build upon the principle that technology should not take away from human interaction, but can transform in-person interactions and supplement learning experiences. HarvardX for Allston is related in spirit to BostonX, but is independent and Harvard-run.
HarvardX for Alumni (or AlumniX)
A new endeavor, HarvardX for Alumni is jointly run by HarvardX and the Harvard Alumni Association (HAA). HarvardX for Alumni is an opportunity for university-wide Harvard graduates to be part of an exclusive online learning experience. Slated to launch in March 2014, the first iteration of HarvardX for Alumni will offer Harvard alumni a kind of “greatest hits” of the intellectual riches of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Covering topics ranging from Greek classics to Puritan poetry to neuroscience and reflecting innovative approaches to education developed by Harvard faculty, the online learning components will be bolstered by local Harvard Club-based activities worldwide and live chats with faculty.
Black Pearl is the code name of a multi-faceted project to build an internal, Harvard-based learning management ecosystem to replace a number of outmoded platforms such as iSites (a course management program developed at Harvard more than a decade ago). The effort is headed up by Jim Waldo, Harvard CTO, and a small group of leaders from IT, HX, and related areas. It is important to note that edX is only one platform that Harvard uses to develop and deliver learning experiences. We have long used iTunes, YouTube, and internal systems to that end. One could portray Black Pearl as a Harvard-based effort to develop an additional flexible platform that supports experimentation, and that as approaches are tested and baked, they may be contributed back to edX.
The City of Boston is teaming with edX to create BostonX. The goal of the endeavor is to offer free online college courses throughout the city. It will also make MOOCs (massive open online courses) available at community colleges and libraries throughout the city. BostonX is still in its infancy but the city hopes to make MOOCs more available and accessible to residents and visitors. Outgoing Boston Mayor Thomas Menino envisioned neighborhoods as "mini campuses" around the city. His vision is that this will only increase the city's impact and standing in the nation and world as a city at the forefront of education.
Coursera & Udacity
Along with edX, Coursera and Udacity (both for-profit) represent the big three of MOOC providers. Both companies were created by faculty affiliated with Stanford University; although, unlike edX, Stanford has no direct investment/role in either. Coursera is similar in focus to edX, but is venture-capital backed and offers more “plug and play” content (meaning template-based courses). Udacity is focusing more on using online learning to enhance corporate training.
Credit, Honored and Verified Certificates, and Credentialing
At this time, edX and HarvardX do not offer for-credit MOOCs. Students who successfully complete a course (per the requirements of the instructor) may be able to receive an Honor Certificate through edX or a Verified Certificate (a fee-based option that requires users to “verify” their identity via webcam to prove they completed the course on their own). As of yet, HarvardX has only offered Honor certificates via edX (co-branded with edX and HarvardX). Experiments are being run through the Division of Continuing Education to offer fee-based HarvardX certificates of success (non-credit) that provide online students with greater access to on-campus resources and instructor and TF time and attention. MITx is experimenting with offering “series,” or fee-based certificates that require the student to complete a series of related online courses on edX.
In May 2012, Harvard joined forces with MIT to form edX (edx.org), a not-for-profit enterprise that features learning designed specifically for interactive study via the web. Backed by a shared $60 million commitment from both institutions, edX is an enabling platform, allowing select university partners the ability to readily distribute course content and other academic materials. The goals of edX are to: 1) expand access to education worldwide; 2) improve teaching and learning on campuses and beyond; and 3) advance teaching and learning through educational research.
By “flipping the classroom,” faculty use technology to enable students to engage with video lectures or other online materials in advance to free up class time for more experiential or hands-on activities. The concept is not necessarily new, having long been used in engineering and lab based settings. Researchers are interested in exploring the flipped classroom concept to determine: How can the development and use of digital resources improve the learning experience in the classroom and how will we know that they work? Can digital resources enable more active engagement with our students?
Launched in parallel with edX, the Harvard and MIT founded not-for-profit online learning enterprise, HarvardX, integrates the development of instructional approaches and digital tools across Harvard’s campus by providing faculty with pedagogical support. By documenting, archiving, and disseminating innovations and research, HarvardX empowers faculty to improve teaching and learning on-campus, online, and beyond. A faculty-driven and university-wide endeavor, HarvardX aims to be collaborative and representational of Harvard’s academic diversity, showcasing the highest quality offerings of the University to serious learners everywhere.
Recognizing the potential of online learning to both reach new audiences and strengthen its engagement with alumni, the Harvard Business School is developing HBX, its own online platform. While sharing best practices with edX (a joint venture of Harvard and MIT) and HarvardX, HBS has outlined several distinctive guiding principles for its entry into this arena. First and foremost, the endeavor is closely tied to the School's mission of educating leaders who make a difference in the world, and every aspect of HBX will be designed to elevate the School's standing and reputation. Additionally, the platform is intended to enhance rather than compete with or substitute for current offerings. Finally, the platform will be built on a robust and self-sustaining economic model.
HILT (Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching)
HILT’s mission is to catalyze innovation and excellence in learning and teaching at Harvard. Four sub-goals were developed in HILT’s inaugural year, which include (1) building on Harvard’s strengths in teaching and learning; (2) meeting the educational needs of students (both technological and pedagogical); (3) strengthening the science of learning; and (4) developing a robust network at Harvard around teaching and learning innovation.
Teaching & Learning Technologies
The technology used by edX and other online learning enterprises is one distinct type of platform among many tools. Harvard has long used iSites, a learning management system (LMS), to handle many of its campus courses. Commercial and open source solutions such as Blackboard and Moodle have also been widely adopted by other institutions. In the digital and cloud computing age, the latest buzz is the learning management ecosystem (LME), or an integrated network of different platforms to develop, deliver, and archive content on-campus and off-campus.
The Harvard Library recently formed a group to focus on meeting the needs of HarvardX faculty and students by leveraging Harvard Library resources and expertise. The LibX Team is currently focusing on identifying resources to support upcoming HarvardX courses, developing a preliminary framework for managing copyright/fair use questions related to HarvardX teaching material, and reviewing a draft guide for Harvard faculty developing HarvardX courses. Upcoming projects include helping to develop a prototype library research module for HarvardX, developing an interactive website designed to help guide and coordinate library support during every stage of HarvardX course development, and designing a lightweight assessment framework for gauging the quality of Harvard Library services for online instruction.
MOOC stands for ‘massive open online course.’ This means that all of the course assets (including assessments and discussion forums) are open to anyone and typically free to audit (non-credit/degree). The New York Times called 2012 “The Year of the MOOC” due to the fact that numerous online education endeavors (such as edX, Coursera, and Udacity) were all launched and gained rapid attention and momentum. These new platforms take advantage of recent technologies like social networking and scalable networks that can support thousands of global learners simultaneously.
Office for the Vice Provost of Advances in Learning
The Office of the Vice Provost for Advances in Learning oversees the University’s longstanding and expanding efforts to support faculty experimentation in novel pedagogies, research on learning sciences, and the use of technologies and tools to enhance teaching and learning on campus and online. Vice Provost Bol reports directly to the provost and oversees both HarvardX and the Harvard Initiative on Learning and Teaching (HILT). Working with faculty and deans from across the University, the office’s broader charge is to guide and develop Harvard’s strategies for advancing pedagogy and enhancing the residential educational experience. Under the direction of Peter Bol, HX is working more intimately with related activities. The Office for Advances in Learning works with the Schools to develop policies and best practices and foster closer collaboration with the Harvard Library, the museums, the Division of Continuing Education, and Harvard University Information Technology, as well as teaching and learning hubs such as the Bok Center.
A course, in the context of edX/HarvardX, is an online learning experience that combines video elements, assessments and other interactive tools and is the equivalent of a full course experience as defined by the faculty member’s school or department. For some this could be a semester-long course, while for others it could be an intensive 3-week course. While online and distance learning are not new---both dates back several decades---MOOCs have often been called a “disruption” as they came about during a time when there is a growing global appetite for knowledge; faculty and major institutional interest in improving teaching and learning; and tech-savvy students eager to embrace enabling technologies.
A module is an online learning experience that combines video elements, assessments and other interactive tools that address a specific topic and its associated learning outcomes. This could be the equivalent of a week to three weeks of a semester-long course and might also be thought of as a discrete unit within a larger course.
An open source platform, such as edX, Linux or Android, is a way of developing software that provides programmers with free access to the “code” so that they can develop and refine it for their own use and then share their innovations back with the community. In addition to being a platform for running courses and modules, the open source edX platform can also be used as a place for teaching and research experimentation, meaning a sandbox for discoveries and development of new tools.
SPOC stands for ‘small private online course’ and describes courses with limited enrollment and course assets that are not necessarily open to all. For example, the HarvardX courses on Copyright and National Security were run, partly, as SPOCs with limited enrollments of 500 to allow for greater interaction and discussion. SPOCS are also a common way to run an experience for residential enrolled students.