Elite Education No Longer Strictly Exclusive: Technology Opening Doors for the Masses
In May 2012, Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) announced their joint partnership in a venture that aims to provide free online education to everyone. Both universities have each contributed $30 million to the development project. EdX, as the project has officially been named, will serve as a non-profit that will build off the initial experience of MIT and Harvard’s online course offerings—with the hope that other universities will join in pursuit. In addition to making EdX’s open-source software available to other universities, the universities that enroll in the platform will be able to help further improve the technology. Although EdX students will not earn academic credits, certificates will be awarded to those who successfully complete the online courses.
Given our increasingly globalizing world, this innovative technology could not have come at a better time. There are many elements of EdX that makes it particularly revolutionary. First, it is not-for-profit, inclusive, affordable, features open-source software, and is offered by two of the most premier universities in the world. Whether it proves a success or a failure, it is sure to revolutionize the current landscape of education. EdX has taken us a step closer to grasping the achievable possibility of educating the masses. As global borders become increasingly transparent, education must take on a more flexible and fluid form that can operate outside rigid traditional values of education. Such rigid values have unfortunately perpetuated unequal access to education as well as the student debt crises.
In other words, I’m referring to institutionalized values such as “earning” your place to a “quality” (often times expensive) education, which frequently comes at the price of excluding many others. In fact, some critics of online education have expressed such worries both in the past and present of online education cheapening residential education. However, university officials contend the opposite. During the EdX press conference in May, president of MIT Susan Hockfield stated, “You can choose to view this era as one of threatening change and unsettling volatility, or you can see it as a moment charged with the most exciting possibilities presented to educators in our lifetimes. Online education is not an enemy of residential education but rather a profoundly liberating and inspiring ally.”
Indeed it can be a powerful ally. MIT and Harvard have chosen to utilize an inclusive approach when facing problems emanating from mere size of online students. For instance, after 120,000 students registered for the first MITx course, the online pedagogy was likewise impacted. MIT computer scientist, Anant Agarwal concluded, “We had a fond hope that the students would begin teaching each other.”
The reality here is that it is an experiment—a work still in progress. Education on such a mass scale – made possible only through significant advancement in technology – will face many challenges that its proponents will need to be prepared to solve if EdX is to set to establish a trend in education. As universities around the world work together, global access at a mass scale can democratize education by building a global community of online learners.