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UC Berkeley joins online education platform of Harvard and MIT

July 24, 2012 |  2:37 pm

UC Berkeley

UC Berkeley announced Tuesday that it is joining the new online education platform founded by Harvard and MIT that offers free but not-for-credit courses to a worldwide audience. The addition of UC Berkeley will give the “edX” online effort its first expansion into a prestigious public university and a foothold on the West Coast away from its Cambridge, Mass. base, officials said.

UC Berkeley will offer two courses, one in software engineering and the other in artificial intelligence, on the edX site in the fall. Those classes will closely follow the on-campus versions although without the personal contact with professors and the in-depth research projects UC students usually do, professors said. An additional five courses will be offered by Harvard and MIT in such topics as solid-state chemistry and computer science.

UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau said the nonprofit, noncommercial edX platform, which has an initial $60 million in funding from Harvard and MIT plus other donations, matches his school’s “mission and values.”

Birgeneau said he did not think joining edX would undercut the UC system’s own early steps into online education since those concentrate on credit courses for tuition-paying UC students, not the worldwide audience edX seeks. The UC campus, which has been feeling the strains of the state budget crisis, is not contributing any money to edX but instead will allow edX to use some open-source technology that UC Berkeley professors have developed and already use for parts of their courses, officials said.

Birgeneau said that UC Berkeley professors could still link their courses to Coursera, a for-profit rival to edX that was founded by two Stanford professors. Stanford University offers courses on Coursera, as do Princeton, the University of Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania, among others.

Though it won’t offer college credits, the edX website is expected to give certificates to people who complete courses and to charge for some of those certificates in the future. Birgeneau said that some California community colleges later may use UC Berkeley’s edX courses as part of their regular campus classes that would earn students credits to transfer to a UC.

Anant Agarwal, president of edX, said he was delighted that UC Berkeley was joining and said he hoped to announce more partner schools in the near future. “UC Berkeley is an extraordinary public institution known not only for its academic excellence but also for its innovativeness. With this collaboration, edX is now positioned to improve education more rapidly both online and on-campus worldwide,” Agarwal, an MIT computer science expert, said in a statement.


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--Larry Gordon

Photo: Crowds walk through Sproul Plaza on the UC Berkeley campus in 2007. Credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images