Students from around the world can enroll in edX courses, which are designed specifically for interactive study via the Web.

Nation & World

EdX expansion set for spring

4 min read

HarvardX offers courses in humanities, law, social sciences

EdX, the online learning initiative founded by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), announced its spring course and module offerings today.

With an emphasis on the humanities and the social sciences, topics include the concept of the hero in classical Greek civilization and literature, the riddle of world poverty, and global environmental change.

Harvard will offer four new courses during the spring season and several “beta” learning modules. Although students will be able to register for the HarvardX and edX courses immediately, the start and completion dates of each will vary.

The three fully open HarvardX courses are:

  • “The Ancient Greek Hero,” taught by Gregory Nagy, Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature and professor of comparative literature, Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS);
  • Justice,” taught by Michael Sandel, Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Government, FAS; and
  • “Human Health and Global Environmental Change,” taught by Aaron Bernstein, associate director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard School of Public Health and a pediatric hospitalist at Boston Children’s Hospital.

In addition, “Copyright” will be taught by William Fisher III, WilmerHale Professor of Intellectual Property Law, Harvard Law School, and director, Berkman Center for Internet & Society.

“Copyright,” which will explore the law of copyright and the ongoing debates concerning how that law might be reformed, will be offered as an experimental course, exploring different combinations and uses of teaching materials, educational technologies, and the edX platform. Enrollment is limited, based on the belief that high-quality legal education depends, at least in part, on supervised small-group discussions of difficult issues.

Five hundred learners will be selected through an application process. There will, however, be open access to course materials via Fisher’s personal website.

Although edX was launched just six months ago, nearly 200,000 people registered for the first two Harvard courses (CS50x: “Introduction to Computer Science I” and PH207x: “Health in Numbers: Quantitative Methods in Clinical and Public Health Research”).

All told, more than 500,000 unique users are engaging with the edX platform. In addition to courses from the two foundational partners, Harvard and MIT, in the coming year students will have opportunities to experience offerings from the University of California, Berkeley; the University of Texas system; Wellesley College; and Georgetown University.

“We have been surprised and gratified by how faculty have responded to edX/HarvardX and the opportunity it provides to fundamentally rethink how we approach teaching,” said Rob Lue, professor of the practice of molecular and cellular biology and faculty leader for HarvardX. “It’s also clear that our first round of courses have had an outstanding impact on learners around the world. The feedback we have received from HarvardX students has been tremendously positive, and there is so much more to come.”

On campus, CS50 and CS50x instructor David Malan is using data insights and self-reports by course bloggers to tweak and enhance one of the most popular classes at the College.

Beyond campus, the global reach of the edX platform is already showing the power of massive open online courses (MOOC). U.S. Air Force pilot Michael Dunn, who is currently stationed in Afghanistan, wrote a letter to the CS50x teaching team thanking the members for “an amazing experience.” He also conveyed what he saw as the promise of widening educational access, writing, “Please continue to make education available to the masses. It’s the only way we’ll have a permanent, lasting impact in the lives of the many.”

Given the growing interest by faculty and instructors to learn more about how to build appropriate course content on the platform, Lue will lead a series of practical workshops in January and February.

“We view edX and HarvardX not only as a way to expand access to high-quality educational content, but also as an opportunity to enhance teaching and learning on campus,” said Provost Alan M. Garber.

HarvardX is only one part of a broader University effort to develop novel teaching and learning activities and gain insights on learning and learning outcomes through research. The Harvard Initiative on Learning and Teaching (HILT), created through a gift from Gustave and Rita Hauser, and the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning both plan to collaborate with the new endeavor.

“Ultimately, HarvardX will strengthen on-campus learning, which is and will remain the foundation of a Harvard education,” said Michael D. Smith, FAS dean.