Wellesley College is First Liberal Arts School to Join edX

Wellesley College, which first opened its doors to students in 1875,  is set to announce that it has become the first liberal arts college in the country to join the edX alliance.

Founded as a joint effort between Harvard and MIT, edX is an online learning platform that counts among its partners some of the most prestigious higher ed institutions in America, and the addition of Wellesley to the roster will allow edX to test out for the first time how well humanities classes can translate into the massive online open course (MOOC) format.

Anant Agarwal, president of edX, said that adding more humanities courses will create an opportunity to test whether it’s possible to translate the small-group setting common at liberal arts colleges like Wellesley to the MOOC environment without too many compromises.

“We want to create the aura of a small-group setting, so that students can discuss among themselves,” he said. Teachers will be able to break the class into small discussion groups that would be akin to seminars, he said.

With students coming ­together from all over the world, exchanges would hold great promise, he said.

In an article published earlier this week in the Huffington Post, H. Kim Bottomly, the President of Wellesley, said that school leaders initially expressed concern about online education because it was believed that the approach is more suitable to rote memorization and “training” rather than learning. Bottomly believes that her school’s mission isn’t simply to provide very expensive vocational training, but to provide its students with the tools to allow them to continue learning long after they leave the Wellesley campus behind.

Yet, even with the reservations, Bottomly felt that entrance into online sphere was inevitable, because as a school that prides itself on its willingness to experiment with any and all educational approaches, for Wellesley, not wading into digital learning would have been both an oversight and a disservice to the school’s current and future students.

I view this as an opportunity for a faculty known for innovation in the classroom to continue to experiment with the use of new technologies that have the potential to bring even more excitement to learning, and to enhance and enliven the classroom experience. Using a powerful platform such as edX, Wellesley faculty can fully explore the concept of blended learning — a process that combines the best of classroom and non-classroom experience. We have also joined edX because we believe that the transformative experience of a liberal arts education, which has been so successful at Wellesley for generations, can contribute important value to the online learning space. Through edX and its partners, we will strive to develop the highest quality online education possible.

Those who are interested in taking advantage of Wellesley’s edX offerings will get their first opportunity next fall, although the specifics of what the first four courses will cover haven’t yet been determined.

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