University of Texas regents approved a plan Monday to offer courses to students around the world through an advanced online platform alongside Harvard, MIT and the University of California-Berkeley.
The UT system is joining edX, a non-profit learning initiative founded by Harvard University and MIT that offers what are called massively open online courses that include interactive laboratories, virtual reality environments and access to online tutors and tutorials.
Anyone with access to the Internet can take the courses at https://www.edx.org. Students who complete the courses receive a certificate of mastery but generally don't get credit toward a college degree. The chancellor of the UT system, Francisco Cigarroa, said it hopes to eventually develop ways to make the courses count toward graduation.
"The University of Texas System aspires to be an active and a national leader in this important movement, but we will always be focused on excellence ... and student success," Cigarroa said. He said UT colleges plan to develop courses that will help enrolled students learn more efficiently and graduate on time.
MIT and Harvard spent $60 million developing edX, launched it in May and UC-Berkeley joined in July. The UT system will spend $10 million on the program.
Cigarroa said UT plans to offer four online courses using the edX platform within the next year. UT hopes to develop online versions of general education courses that are currently taught to hundreds of students at once in large auditoriums.
Education researchers use data from the edX courses to study how students learn and then try to improve the online courses, said Anant Agarwal, president of edX.
The announcement comes as Gov. Rick Perry steps up his campaign demanding that public universities offer $10,000 degrees, including books. Texas leaders have cut funding for higher education in recent years and Texas colleges have raised tuition. Many have called for cheaper online courses that offer the same education as formal classes.
Ciagarroa said the edX platform is the best platform available because it offers UT professors the opportunity to develop the best courses from the best universities while protecting intellectual property and business interests. He said UT may offer courses that blend online and classroom instruction in the future.