Thursday, March 27, 2014

Faculty X’ed: FAQ on EdX

Colgate and Hamilton have jointly announced that they are joining the EdX consortium.  This initiative was first mentioned by the Deans (Doug Hicks and Pat Reynolds) at February faculty meetings and then formally launched on March 6.

What did the Deans say prior to launch?
  • Both Deans emphasized outreach to alumni and prospective students

Doug Hicks: “ We are looking for ways to reach out to alumni groups as
well as to our admissions base…”

Pat Reynolds: “[A]nything we do with edX is basically a C&D 
[Communications and Development?] initiative about outreach to alumni…”

  • Both Deans stated that EdX is unrelated to the curriculum:

Doug Hicks: “[EdX] presents materials online in a non-credit model
and thus Colgate’s involvement would not connect to our on-campus
curricular programs.”

Pat Reynolds:  “These offerings are unconnected to our curriculum and
akin to the “alumni colleges (faculty speaking to alums on academic topics)
that we offer at reunions.

  • Both Deans mentioned that joining EdX would involve offering public courses: two from each college in the first year.

What did the Deans not say?

  • Any explanation of what it means to offer a public course.
  • Anything about costs to the colleges from joining EdX.
  • Any indication of the length of the contractual obligation made to EdX or whether there is a public course obligation beyond the first year.

What is a public course?

A public course is open to anyone who registers (registration is free) with EdX.  Harvard and MIT, EdX co-founders, have recently released a series of working papers on courses offered in the first year of EdX.  

In the first year, an average EdX course had 52,605 registrants.  Of those registrants, 35% never even looked at the course materials and another 56% viewed less than half the available course material.  About two-thirds of the remaining 9% of students received a certificate testifying that they had successfully passed the course.  The 2,700 students (on average) who received certificates in a course seem to have passed the course based on multiple-choice exams.

What is a certificate?

EdX offers Honor Code certificates in courses and Verified certificates (where the registrant’s identity is actually verified) in a smaller subset of courses.

The certificates are described at and the sample certificate  below is adapted from

Didn’t Colgate’s strategic plan endorse joining a MOOC?

No.  The Strategic Planning working group on Teaching and Learning discussed MOOCs (including EdX) extensively and concluded:

B. Establishing a Philosophical Framework for Moving Forward
Thus we remain committed to the Colgate model. However, we should not ignore the opportunities that online educational approaches might offer. How do we approach these opportunities? The TLWG recommends that Colgate be guided by the question of whether they allow students and faculty to engage with and challenge each other.

• Will faculty be able to work with all students in the course, to comment on work, and to develop one-on-one relationships?
• Will students get to know each other and have the opportunity to grow intellectually from this interaction?
• Is the online opportunity incorporating a significant synchronous component, in which participants are engaged at the same time?
While we recognize that many online courses might meet these ideals, the residential nature of our mission requires that we limit the number and type of online experiences.

We recommend continued exploration of ways in which Colgate might take advantage of online opportunities, including experimentation with some online programming. We believe that online education will continue to evolve and that we not move aggressively until the direction becomes clear and is well-matched to our educational vision.

What might happen if faculty were given a vote on joining EdX?

Amherst College faculty were allowed to make the decision on whether Amherst would join EdX and voted the proposal down.  Press reports indicated that Amherst faculty had serious reservations about issuing Amherst-endorsed certificates in EdX public courses and that the fees EdX charges are significant. 

Should faculty have been involved in Colgate’s decision to join EdX and what does the lack of involvement say about shared governance?

Fill in your own answer below:


Roger Rowlett said...

My main concern about this initiative it that it draws faculty time and talent away from our core mission of teaching and research to essentially serve the interests of alumni affairs. Is this the best way to spend faculty time to advance our strategic aims?

As a liberal arts college in the "premium" sector of the higher ed landscape, Colgate should be focused like a laser on delivering high-impact educational practices like undergraduate research, service learning, project-based learning, off-campus study, etc. The institution should also be very cognizant of supporting a scholarly faculty to deliver this kind of high-impact educational environment. Online learning has not yet made the list of these high-impact educational practices, and developing on-line learning materials is time-intensive. I would rather see that time invested in teaching and scholarship that has a direct impact on our enrolled students.

The Curmudgeon said...

While not exactly a scam, EdX is a sham. Their courses appear to be "programmed" learning in the worst sense of the word: there is a real disconnect between instructors' content, the testing of that content (by algorithm, of course), and course "learning." In fact, this disconnect is so egregious, I have come to believe that the EdX course structure is entirely computer-generated. They simply videotape some instructors, develop simple tests based--sort of--on what is said, and write programs to grade those tests. Believe, a trained monkey could pass, especially since the tests are typically three-answer multiple choice, and you get a second try if you get it wrong! Puh-leez! Don't be fooled by the EdX marketing pitch. You won't learn much, and there is a charge to get a "certificate" of completion. It's really just a bait-and-switch "certificate-selling" service. I'm surprised such prestigious organizations have linked up with them.