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ND to offer edX consortium courses

| Wednesday, August 27, 2014

As part of its unfolding and increasingly diversified approach to digital education, Notre Dame will begin offering free and open online courses through the edX Consortium next spring.

Professor Elliott Visconsi, the University’s chief academic digital officer in the Provost’s Office, said Notre Dame’s digital strategy “is one emerging component of the University’s broader commitment to world class academics, research and teaching.”

“The edX Consortium is good for Notre Dame because it allows us to join the company of other world-class research universities to understand and pursue new tools in effective teaching and learning,” he said. “It helps us to share our academic work — our research and teaching faculty — with the world in an interactive and engaging way.

“But whatever we build for edX courses will be used in courses and programs at Notre Dame. The communities, research outcomes, knowledge base and instructional media we create at Notre Dame and share through the edX platform will help us achieve the goal of delivering an unparalleled education to our students. One of our overall principles is to put Notre Dame students and faculty at the heart of the learning experience.”

The edX Consortium was founded by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2012 with the goal of providing free, open and high-quality online education. In June, Notre Dame officially became one of 36 edX charter members, joining universities including the University of California at Berkeley, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Georgetown and the University of Chicago.

Visconsi said he and the faculty digital strategy committee chose edX from a number of potential partners because its values most closely aligned with Notre Dame’s.

“We chose edX because it aligned with our philosophical goals: it’s not-for-profit, it’s committed to transparency of data sharing and inter-institutional collaboration and its goal is to improve human flourishing through access to education,” he said.

In addition to providing enrichment opportunities for the world, the partnership with edX will maintain a focus on the educational benefits it can create on Notre Dame’s campus, Visconsi said.

“Public engagement is a benefit and not a driver of our digital strategy,” he said.

Visconsi said Notre Dame’s edX courses, which will be announced sometime during the fall semester, will be free to anyone, but will not count for academic credit nor will they replace any existing classes. Instead, he said the courses will provide enrichment opportunities, which can be utilized in already-developed classes at Notre Dame.

“Everything that we do in our strategy is designed to support and underscore the value of a residential research university education,” he said. “We’re not looking to replace faculty, we’re not looking to replace courses with online courses.

“What we’re looking to do is expand the possibilities for students and faculty, supplement or layer digital materials onto courses, allow faculty to do more research-driven, highly engaging teaching that is based in the sciences of learning.

In order to do this, Visconsi said the University will hire instructional designers to help professors construct courses that can be disseminated through the edX platform. He said this will alleviate pressure from professors to create every aspect of a digital course and lead to a higher-quality finished product.

“It’s a bit like making a movie,” he said. “You don’t give somebody the camera and ask them to hold camera, write the script, do the acting, raise the money, edit the footage and distribute the film. There are different professional skills that combine in teams to create works of art; we think of online course design as a team effort led by faculty but created in partnership.”

Visconsi said the courses will be “of broad interest” and in “a blend of different academic areas,” which he believes will generate enthusiasm among Notre Dame students and faculty.

“These courses, we anticipate, will be of great interest to the expanded community of learners who care about Notre Dame, and so these courses will continue to raise the academic profile of the University on a global scale,” he said.

Going forward, Visconsi said he hopes to use edX courses in a variety of different ways to better connect students to their peers and underscore the University’s commitment to being an academic leader.

“We’re also really interested in using these platforms and these tools to connect students who may be interested in studying abroad with students back home, and then, as students come into Notre Dame, building some materials … that will help the transition to the University,” he said.

“It’s important for students to know that the University is committed to advances in teaching and learning and that we are putting faculty and resources into the smart and effective use of digital tools and strategies to deliver a world-class education.  We always have been committed to excellence in the classroom; edX is one small part of that continuing commitment to make sure that we’re always improving.”

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About Jack Rooney

Jack is a 2016 graduate of Notre Dame, and The Observer's former managing editor. He is currently spending a year living and working for the University in Ireland, and writing columns to keep him busy. For more random thoughts and plenty of news links, follow Jack on Twitter @RooneyReports.

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