Have you always dreamed of studying at an American Ivy League University? For many of Oxford Royale Academy’s students this is a very real dream, which starts from a young age. Our SAT Preparation course helps guide aspirational students towards their university goals. But this Autumn, more than one million students are going to be part of an experiment that could re-invent the landscape of higher education.
Some of the biggest powerhouses in American higher education – Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – are offering online courses, to see whether their expertise and scholarship can be brought to a global audience. This $60m alliance will launch edX, a platform to deliver courses online, with the stated ambition of “revolutionising education around the world”.
edX will provide online interactive courses which can be studied by anyone, anywhere in the world, with no admission requirements, and even more remarkably, for free.
The first president of edX is Anant Agarwal, director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and one of the pioneers of the MITx online prototype. MITx revealed the game-changing potential of this kind of platform: the first online course from MITx earlier this year had more students than the entire number of living students who have graduate from the university. Indeed, it isn’t far from the total of all the students who have ever been there since the nineteenth-century.
The courses being launched in the autumn, Professor Agarwal anticipates, will have at least 500,000 students – and probably many more. As an example of how course might be delivered, the MITx prototype taught an electronics course using an interactive virtual laboratory, e-textbooks, online discussions and video lectures. Assessment for the 10 hour course was entirely automated.
“This could be the end of the two-hour lecture,” says Professor Agarwal. “You can’t hit the pause button on a lecturer, you can’t fast forward.” Recorded lectures – available at the push of an iPad – could be more like text books, with universities using the best available.
However, accrediting such courses is another tricky area. The online courses are promised to be as rigorous as anything else from MIT or Havard – but successful students will get a ‘certificate of mastery’ and not a degree of any formal university credit. It’s being set at arm’s length from what’s on offer for the paying customers. If students on campus are paying $50,000 per year, it’s going to be difficult to give away qualification to online learners without charge.
The rise of online courses run by world-leading universities raises important questions about what, exactly, it is that students are paying for. Is it the interactions with staff? Or is it the time with other students? Is it something to put on a CV? Experts argue that the most prestigious universities are always going to have enough demand for places – but the emergence of high-quality online courses could be tougher for middle-ranking institutions. Why would you pay high fees to sit through a mediocre lecture, when you could go online and watch world experts at another university, even if it’s in another country?
The academics behind these online courses argue that online courses are a real democratising influence, making a profound change by tapping into unused talent, as society will no longer be stratified by who can afford access to education. We’ll be following these developments closely here at Oxford Royale Academy.