UT System to Forge Partnership with EdX

Updated, 12:30 pm: As expected the University of Texas System Board of Regents unanimously approved a new systemwide partnership with edX, a provider of massive open online courses, on Monday.

In a press conference afterward, system leaders said that they had committed to contributing one course by summer 2013 and four by fall 2013. Gene Powell, chairman of the board of regents, said that if the system developed more than four courses that could meet their standards, they would not be limited in how many they can offer.

The system will invest $5 million in edX, which UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa is significantly less than what they would have paid had they attempted to establish their own platform. Harvard University and MIT each invested $30 million to launch edX.

The system will spend another $5 million on course development. The money being spent on the venture comes from the initial $50 million investment in the system's Institute for Transformational Learning that the regents approved in 2011.

Gov. Rick Perry expressed enthusiasm for the partnership. "“The UT System’s partnership with edX is great news for Texas and exactly the type of effort I hope more schools will consider as we aggressively pursue the goals of improving graduation rates and making a college education more accessible and affordable for Texans,” he said in a statement.

Original Story: The University of Texas System Board of Regents is expected to approve a new systemwide partnership on Monday with edX, a high profile provider of free online courses.

EdX, a non-profit which began in early 2012 as a joint venture between Harvard University and MIT, now also includes the University of California-Berkeley. The UT System, with its nine academic campuses and six health institutions, will be the first university system to get on board.

“New technologies are positively impacting how professors teach and how course content is delivered,” UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa said. “The University of Texas System will help lead this revolution and fundamentally alter the direction of online education."

In August 2011, when Cigarroa outlined his framework for advancing excellence throughout the UT System, the regents approved a $50 million investment in a new Institute for Transformational Learning to help develop new approaches to classroom instruction and student engagement.

Steven Mintz, a historian who most recently worked at Columbia University, was recently named executive director of the institute, which will oversee the partnership with edX.

Rice University, a prestigious private university in Houston, participates in these so-called "massive open online courses," or MOOCs, through Coursera, a for-profit company that also boasts a roster that inludes Stanford University, Princeton University and the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

At a board meeting in August 2012, Harrison Keller, vice provost for higher education policy at the University of Texas at Austin, gave a presentation on blended and online courses and noted that the system's flagship institution was looking into partnerships with edX and Coursera.

Mintz told The Tribune that edX was chosen over other companies offering such online courses because it is "run by academics, is non-profit, and is committed to open-source software." He also said edX shared a common vision and a commitment to improving courses on and off campus.

Offering free courses in this manner will help the UT System establish itself as a leader in the field of educational technologies and help it develop new approaches to delivering courses in which students have historically struggled, Mintz said.

When asked if making the universities' content so readily available could dilute the UT brand, Mintz said it wouldn't.

"Any courses that we offer will be best in class," he said. "We will use the new learning tools we develop in hybrid and web-enhanced face-to-face formats as well as in online delivery. We are partnering with Harvard, MIT, and Berkeley precisely because we believe this partnership will ensure that everything we produce will embody excellence."

Gene Powell, the chairman of the UT System Board of Regents, also highlighted the potential cost savings to students.

“Our goal through our partnership with edX is to better meet the learning needs of a wide range of students, raise graduation rates and cut the cost of higher education, all while maintaining our commitment to education of the highest quality," he said.

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