Princeton faculty to begin offering courses on edX online platform

Sept. 24, 2015 11 a.m.

Princeton University continues to broaden its online teaching and learning efforts and has become a charter member of the edX Consortium. As a result, millions of learners will have the opportunity to take free classes offered by Princeton faculty on the edX online platform.

The first course taught by a Princeton faculty member on edX is scheduled to begin in October. Jennifer Widner, a professor of politics and international affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, will lead the course "Making Government Work in Hard Places."

"'Making Government Work' introduces key concepts and skills helpful for improving public sector performance in challenging settings," Widner said. "It discusses strategies of reform, then walks participants through several topics, from building more effective and efficient citizen services to community-directed development and cabinet office coordination."

In the spring, Maria Garlock, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, plans to offer the course "The Art of Structural Engineering: Bridges" through edX.

Jeff Himpele, director for teaching initiatives and programs at the University's McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning, said the decision to join edX is a response to the needs of faculty members.

"Faculty continue to ask for an expanding set of online tools, different kinds of environments, as well as tools for learning analytics they can use to study student learning in open courses and in private campus courses," Himpele said.

Widner said she was attracted to edX by its clear, simple structure.

"Online courses can be confusing to navigate. EdX's clarity is a highlight and is important if not all users speak the same language," Widner said, also noting the importance of allowing users free access to online courses.

Garlock said she hopes to make engineering education accessible to everyone.

"I believe that all of us, not just engineers, should be educated about the design of our civil works and their history and significance," she said.

EdX, a nonprofit online learning destination, was founded by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University in 2012.

"We're joining a consortium of edX member universities whose primary mission is expanding access to education and advancing it through research," Himpele said. "There are a number of faculty at Princeton who want to do research on open online courses and others who will be able to enhance their teaching on campus by analyzing student learning in online environments connected with their courses."

"Princeton's commitment to open education for both learners and faculty aligns with the edX mission to increase access to education, enhance teaching and learning, and to conduct research," said Anant Agarwal, edX chief executive and MIT professor. "We are honored to welcome Princeton and connect this prestigious university with the edX global learning community as we join efforts to make high-quality education accessible for all."

EdX also offers an open-source platform, Open edX, which will allow the University greater flexibility to design and develop custom sites for courses offered on campus, Himpele said.

"In adopting these customizable environments, it will allow us to take further our experiments in relating online learning environments to our curriculum on campus and integrating them with existing courses or creating new courses or course modules," Himpele said. "So this is part of the McGraw Center's and the University's efforts to open up and expand access to the curriculum among a diverse student population."

Princeton also offers open online courses on the Coursera platform and plans to offer courses on Kadenze, an online learning platform specifically created to support the arts and creative technologies. The University has also offered courses through NovoEd.

Anyone wishing to take classes offered by Princeton on one of the online platforms may do so at no charge. Open online courses offered by Princeton faculty do not result in Princeton credit.