Stanford University will be working together with the online education platform edX to improve the software which powers its massive online open courses, as well releasing an API to allow other colleges and universities open access to use the software for their own needs.
The move announced this Wednesday is expected to contribute to the growth of MOOCs since it will relieve smaller schools of the need to invest in infrastructure to offer courses of their own.
The improved platform will come with tools that will help schools evaluate the effectiveness of the courses they offer in order to be better able to tailor them to the unique needs of their students. The source code for the platform – which was initially a partnership between Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology — will be released online in June.
“We hope to have a platform that really makes online learning better for everybody in the world,” edX President Anant Agarwal said. His nonprofit organization was founded by MIT and Harvard University last year and now includes 12 universities who have put massive open online courses, or MOOCs, online or will do so by next year.
Agarwal, an MIT professor, likened the Stanford agreement to having formerly rival car manufacturers deciding to work together to design a new car; the result, he said, will be a faster and more efficient vehicle that then can be used for many different types of passengers and trips.
Although a number of schools have joined the edX initiative since its launch, Stanford is not one of them, despite the new commitment it has now made to the platform. It isn’t clear if the university will be financially investing in edX or even offer online courses through it. Currently the school uses its own proprietary platform to offer online classes targeted at the students enrolled in its traditional courses as well as offering limited free access to the public over the internet. The courses do not currently award college credit.
John Mitchell, Stanford’s vice provost for online learning, didn’t rule out using edX for its online offerings in the future, saying merely that all decisions will be made on case-by-case basis.
Whatever the actual portal to online classes, improving the edX open access platform will make all operations more efficient at Stanford and elsewhere, Mitchell said. For example, the improved platform may be better able to track connections between how well students perform on tests to how often they replay portions of videotaped lectures they they may find confusing; that can help professors improve course material, he said.