The University of California Berkeley has joined edXthe not-for-profit, provider of massive open online courses (MOOCs) founded by Harvard University and MIT that launched in May. The university stated that it will be offering seven courses through the edX platform this fall.
UC Berkeley’s decision to join edX, has not only raised eyebrows because of the school’s prominence, but also because several of the college’s professors are already offering, or are scheduled to offer, courses through the competing, for-profit Coursera platform.
The university’s participation in both edX and Coursera follows the more low-key roll out of the school’s own online education program, the UC Online Instruction Pilot Project. In 2009, when the UC Online Program was conceived, university administrators expected that the initiative would utilize private investors to meet its $7.65 million start-up costs.
However, only $750,000 in private funds materialized and the university president’s office had to loan the program $6.9 million, a loan which is scheduled to be repaid by the 2018-2019 fiscal year. UC Berkley’s participation in, and development of, programs like edX, Coursera, and UC Online, has drawn familiar criticism from faculty and concern from students.
The Daily Californian reports that outgoing co-chair of the Berkley Faculty Association, political science professor Wendy Brown, issued statements describing the university’s online initiatives as “converting a first class university education into a set of on-line courses produced and delivered on the cheap.”
Brown has also taken issue with what she saw as a lack of direction in the development of UC Online by writing that as Coursera and edX, “sailed the winds of open sourcing and brought ever more universities and constituencies on board, the UC online project kept shifting course.”
After changes in UC Online’s leadership, the directorship of the program has passed to Keith Williams, a senior lecturer in neurobiology, physiology and behavior at UC Davis. Williams stated that UC Online will begin a targeted roll out of 19 courses throughout the academic year.
The classes will be high-enrollment, lower division courses that will be marketed to non-UC students who will be able to take the classes for transfer credit. Williams described them as “gateway courses” to the Daily Californian. The concept for UC Online is markedly different from the university’s views on how it sees edX being used by students and the general public.
A written statement announcing the partnership portrays the first UC Berkley course being offered through edX—a class on artificial intelligence taught by assistant professor Pieter Abbeel and associate professor Dan Klein, both of whom are from the college’s electrical engineering and computer science department—as a supplement for UC Berkley students who “take a class online to better prepare for the classroom version.”
The statement goes on to describe the potential democratizing aspects of free online courses. And as Coursera has discovered, when the only barrier to entry is technology, the student body can rapidly grow into hundreds of thousands logging in from hundreds of countries.
The various aspects of the school’s online education strategy were discussed at a June 19 meeting of UC Berkley’s council of Deans prior to the release of a document entitled Principles of UC Berkley’s Online Education Strategy; a document that was removed from the university’s website less than 24 hours after it was uploaded.
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