Rice Offers First Free Advanced Placement MOOC


Rice University has released a free Advanced Placement biology course on edX in a milestone move to bring college-level courses to high school students.

edX was created in 2012 in a joint effort between MIT and Harvard as a nonprofit platform for offering massive open online courses (MOOCs) on a global level.

The new course from Rice is the first on edX to be advertised as an AP course for high schoolers.  The course covers four sections: the cell; genetics; evolution and diversity; and ecology, and finishes with the AP exam in April.

It is unclear how many students will take the online course, although according to the College Board, 213,000 students took the AP Biology exam this year and over 2.3 million students took at least one AP exam this year, although not necessarily in Biology.  Taking an AP class is not a requirement to take the test.

Previously, students could pay an online provider to take the AP courses.  Tuition is advertised between $75 and $500 for the courses.

“Our program you can take for free,” said Reid Whitaker, executive director of the Center for Digital Learning and Scholarship at Rice. “This is a comprehensive program. Free resources. That’s a game changer.”

Whitaker will be co-teaching the MOOC with Kara Burrous, an AP biology teacher in the Houston area.  Although the online course cannot offer the lab experience to students, Whitaker said there will be recommendations made for labs.  The course will contain lecture videos, multiple-choice questions, essay questions, and tutorial videos.

The course, and other future AP course selections on edX, will be offered through top-name universities such as Boston University, MIT, and Georgetown.  The company is expected to release 26 such courses, launching in 2015.

EdX is hoping that offering the courses to high school students will address the “crucial need” of readying high school students for college.

“This readiness gap between college eligibility and preparedness is costly not only to students, but also to families and institutions,” wrote EdX CEO Anant Agarwal. “Our new initiative will address this severe gap and help alleviate these costly disparities.”

The nonprofit, New York-based College Board “is not currently in partnership with edX to develop or promote these offerings.”

“We are interested in the work edX is doing to create supports for more students to enroll in AP coursework and are looking forward to further discussion with them regarding our shared goal: to remove obstacles and deliver opportunity,” Trevor Packer, a College Board senior vice president, said in a statement.

Those who obtain a high score on an AP exam can often skip over the introductory level course on the subject once they enter college, sometimes gaining college credit.

Since edX began in 2012, the company has registered 3 million users, 150,000 of which are high school students.