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On edX

March 11, 2016

"To boldly go … "

-Captain James T. Kirk, Star Trek


You have to appreciate the simplicity of the mission of the USS Enterprise, Star Trek’s iconic starship: To boldly go where no one has gone before. When it comes to its teaching and learning mission, RIT shares this passion for exploration. It was, after all, the first institution to offer a number of unique degrees such as software engineering, microelectronics engineering, biotechnology, and a Ph.D. in imaging science to name a few. And in the 90s it was a leader in online education, offering one of the first online program in the country. Innovation and teaching go hand-in-hand at RIT. 

So it is this context that I look at the newly announced partnership with edX. It is all about providing new opportunities for faculty and staff to innovate as educators and scholars using a 21st century tool that opens doors to new resources, data, and students. In this post, I explore more about edX, what it means to RIT, and the next steps in our partnership. 

About edX: The edX consortium is a non-profit association built on an open-source learning platform for the purposes of innovating in teaching and learning. It was founded by Harvard and MIT in 2010 and already counts some of the nation’s top universities such as Cornell, University of Texas, Georgetown, Caltech, Columbia and University of California, Berkeley, among its partners.

Access to the platform has three major applications: (i) offering free massive open online courses (MOOC) to the world; (ii) offering courses to our own students for credit and requiring tuition; and (iii) extending educational access and promoting the sharing of knowledge. The platform has a plethora of features for supporting teaching and learning in new and exciting ways. It is not intended to replace MyCourses but rather extends reach and allows for experimentation. Faculty will use the edX platform to teach in different ways and perhaps to different audiences. You can find much more information on my website or have conversations with Neil Hair and Therese Hannigan. 

The strategic reasons for RIT joining edX:  It is appropriate and fair to ask why RIT chose to join edX and how the membership will benefit RIT. I see the following as compelling benefits and how they connect to the Difference Makers (DM) from RIT’s Strategic Plan, “Greatness through Difference”: 

  • Visibility: By entering this consortium, RIT is thrust into a national limelight for innovative teaching and learning. I am confident that our faculty will be interested in offering unique RIT-specialized MOOCs that will garner praise and generate great interest in our university. DM III.10
  • A new network of universities and colleges: Based on our participation in edX forums, we have already seen that the other edX partners are incredibly supportive and collaborative. Our team has found the partners extremely willing to share data, practices and support. DM V.1
  • A complementary platform for the entire campus: With the unique features and markets that the edX platform offers, not only will academic affairs be able to access new tools and students, other RIT divisions will have new opportunities to demonstrate RIT’s capabilities and knowledge. DM IV.2
  • Access to millions of students: With over 5 million students from more than 20 countries worldwide on the edX platform alone, RIT will reach a whole new audience of students who will see the value of an RIT education and will want to enroll in our programs. DM I.1.6, III.5
  • New teaching and learning tools and resources: At the heart of the edX tool are the learning analytics that all the partners share with each other. This is huge for the future of education because we will be able to understand how students learn in ways we have never seen. DM IV.2
  • Data for RIT's emerging strength in discipline-based pedagogical research: Not only will learning analytics help faculty deliver their content in more impactful ways but the data will also open new doors to our discipline-based learning researchers. DM II.1
  • A greater RIT online presence. RIT has a history and tradition for innovating with technology-enhanced and online learning. We formed RIT Online and the Innovative Learning Institute to ensure we continue leading in this space and the addition of the edX partnership will be a significant investment for this commitment. DM IV.2.2

While I am certain that there are many other advantages that RIT will accrue from joining the edX consortium, these stand out as the core strategic benefits. 

There are a number of critical next steps in the implementation process for the edX partnership. First, we must offer a number of forums and workshops in order to thoroughly inform the RIT community. You will see the ILI announce these over the coming weeks of the spring semester. 

Second, we must form a university-wide edX Advisory Council that will be charged to guide the ILI in how we can best use this new tool.

Third, we must provide robust support and resources for faculty and staff who are interested in using the edX platform, especially those interested in offering a MOOC. 

Finally, and speaking of MOOCs, we will develop and offer two new learning experiences on the site in our first year of the partnership. We must also identify and announce two additional offerings in the following year. Edx has identified areas of demand for RIT to focus on which are game design and fundamentals of UI/UX design.  We look to the RIT community and the edX Advisory Council to share ideas for future offerings.

Finally, and speaking of MOOCs, we will need to identify, develop, and offer up to four courses on the edX MOOC site. 

While comparing the edX initiative to Star Trek might be a bit trite, the analogy serves a purpose. There is a sense of excitement in how these new tools, pedagogies and course delivery methods are quickly evolving and, down the road, I can see RIT contributing with new discoveries to teaching and learning pedagogies.  

In the end, RIT needs this opportunity to boldly explore this space. Let’s see what’s out there.