On Monday, President Jack DeGioia joined Harvard’s President, Dr. Drew Faust, in announcing Georgetown’s membership in edX, an online consortium between Harvard, MIT, Wellesley, the University of Texas, and University of California Berkeley.
Started between Harvard and MIT, edX is part of a growing movement to offer Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). EdX was started as a non-profit in March of this year, and offers free university-level classes.
“Welcome, Jack, to edX—we’re delighted to have Georgetown as a part of the group. It’s such an extraordinary institution, committed to excellence in every way,” said Faust. “I think you have very special capacities to bring to edX.”
Currently edX offers mostly science- and technology-based courses, such as “Introduction to Solid State Chemistry” and “Circuits and Electronics.” President DeGioia would not say what courses Georgetown plans to offer on the edX platform. “Part of what we complement is we bring very strong support in the social sciences and the humanities, policy studies, law, business,” said DeGioia. “We’ll begin the process when we get back in January of trying to determine what will be the first courses we place in the fall of 2013.”
Another aspect that Georgetown brings to edX is an international perspective, with its SFS-Q campus. “I’m going next week to Doha to announce this same initiative. We’re hoping there will be grant proposals from Doha,” said Provost Robert Groves. “In fact, if you think about this, a global audience requires great cultural sensitivity. We have to know whether the kind of pedagogy that’s done at Georgetown actually works in a variety of cultures. We think we’re wonderfully positioned to do that.”
DeGioia acknowledged that this may seem an unusual move for a 225-year-old institution. Groves sees part of the “payoff” of online programs is the analytic data that comes with it. “Why would a slow-moving university quickly adopt this? And I think the answer is we’re right at the edge of something that would allow enormous acceleration in the quality of what we do,” said Groves. “It’s the learning data that comes out of this. The fact that we can track every keystroke, every mouse click of a student, as a student experiences it.…How wonderful it would be to enter the class at 9:30 in the morning, knowing exactly what the distribution of understanding of the students.”
DeGioia, himself a former professor of philosophy, admits its difficult to see how this new initiative can replace student-professor interaction. “I just did a seminar with 15 students. It’s hard to imagine how a lot of that could be replaced by automation,” said DeGioia. “At the same time, what we’re striving for is, what’s the sweet spot between what we can do in a residential, living university community, and the blended use of technology to enhance that residential undergraduate experience.”
Georgetown’s leadership does not see MOOCs as a silver bullet to improving education. Instead, this partnership, combined with the recent ITEL announcement, seeks to build a technological infrastructure for teaching and learning at Georgetown.
“We’ve got a mantra,” said DeGioia. “We can’t get better fast enough at everything that we’re doing in this environment.”
Photo: Courtesy Georgetown University