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Amherst College faculty vote against joining edX

On April 16, 2013, Amherst College faculty voted 70-36 against a motion to join the edX consortium. The college would have been the second liberal arts college to join edX, after Wellesley College.

According to the Amherst Student, debate at the deciding faculty meeting centered around the suitability of the edX platform and massive open online courses (MOOCs) to Amherst’s educational mission. Proponents of the motion argued that the edX technology would make it easier for Amherst to offer online courses and help Amherst gain experience with MOOCs, while others cited a lack of confidence in the edX platform for this purpose. One key point of contention was edX’s requirement that Amherst offer certificates of completion for courses offered more than once, which many viewed as against the college’s interests.

At the end of the meeting, the faculty voted to approve a second motion that would explore alternatives to edX. The motion claimed that Amherst’s mission is “best served by having the College itself, rather than an outside organization that offers so-called massive open online courses, develop and offer these online courses and course materials.”

Amherst is not the only college with faculty to come out against edX. Yesterday, professors in the philosophy department at San José State University issued a public statement about their refusal to use the popular edX course JusticeX in their department. In a letter to Harvard Professor Michael Sandel, who teaches JusticeX, the professors argued that the California State University system’s contract to license MOOCs from edX stemmed from a pressure to cut costs and would compromise the universities’ quality of education. “We believe that having a scholar teach and engage with his or her own students is far superior to having those students watch a video of another scholar engaging his or her students,” they wrote.

In response, San José provost and vice president for academic affairs Ellen Juan stated that despite the university’s edX pilot program, faculty members will have sole responsibility in determining “how much, or how little, of the edX course materials they will incorporate into their blended courses,” in a statement to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

This week, edX also released 8.MReV: Mechanics ReView, a three month review of Newtonian mechanics. Unlike other edX offerings, the course is targeted toward high school students and physics teachers, who will be able to earn education credits through a collaboration between edX and the American Association of Physics Teachers. The class is based on the three-week IAP 8.01 (Physics I) Review offered to students that had struggled in 8.01 during the fall, and was developed by the RELATE (Research in Learning, Assessing and Tutoring Effectively) group at MIT.

Deborah Chen