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UC Berkeley to offer free online classes through edX

Edx, founded by Harvard and MIT, will host two not-for-credit UC Berkeley courses this fall.

July 24, 2012|By Larry Gordon, Los Angeles Times
  • UC Berkeley is not contributing any money to edX; instead, it will let the program use some open source technology that its professors developed, officials said.
UC Berkeley is not contributing any money to edX; instead, it will let the… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )

UC Berkeley announced Tuesday that it is joining the new online education website founded by Harvard and MIT that offers free, not-for-credit courses to a worldwide audience. The addition of UC Berkeley will give edX 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 platform 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 that UC students usually do, professors said. Five other courses will be offered by Harvard University and MIT in such topics as solid state chemistry and computer science.

UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau said the not-for-profit, non-commercial 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 University of California system's own early steps into online education because those concentrate on for-credit courses for tuition-paying UC students, not the worldwide audience that edX seeks. The UC campus, which has been feeling the strains of the state budget woes, is not contributing any money to edX but instead will allow it 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 University professors. Stanford offers courses on Coursera, as do Princeton University, the University of Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania, among others.

Although it won't offer college credits, the edX website is expected to give certificates to students 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 give students credits to transfer to a UC.

Anant Agarwal, president of edX, said that he was delighted UC Berkeley was joining and that 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.

larry.gordon@latimes.com

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