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December 10, 2012

Elite colleges take to web

(Continued)

"We're truly honored" to be invited to join edX, DeGioia said in an interview.

Details of the arrangement, including financial terms and what online courses Georgetown will offer, remain to be settled. The university expects to build MOOCs in social sciences and humanities, drawing on strengths in areas such as international relations, law and public policy. The courses would launch by next fall.

Georgetown officials, echoing counterparts at U-Md., U-Va. and elsewhere, said they hope the MOOC experiments will shed light on how to improve campus instruction. What are called learning analytics — a data trove mined from student interaction with MOOCs — could provide rapid feedback to professors, enabling them to retool lectures and seminars.

"We're all searching for the optimal blend of face-to-face experience and online experience," said Robert Groves, Georgetown's provost. "And the world hasn't figured that out yet."

The emergence of MOOCs has prompted talk about how they might shake up the economic model of higher education, especially if students are able to use them to earn credit toward a degree. That's no small question for private institutions such as Georgetown, MIT and Harvard, where annual tuition and fees for an undergraduate student exceed $40,000 a year.

For now, though, prominent universities are not offering credits for their MOOCs.

For edX, securing Wellesley and now Georgetown might signal the beginning of a new phase of growth as the site navigates a global market just beginning to take shape. To date, Coursera has moved faster than edX in many respects.

Coursera counts more than 2 million registered users. Agarwal said edX has surpassed 500,000 unique users — a figure he called "staggering."

As of Friday, Coursera listed 208 MOOCs and edX nine.

Coursera's courses cover a variety of material: introduction to astronomy (Duke University), women and the civil rights movement (U-Md.) and introduction to computer networks (University of Washington), among many topics. A coming course from Brown University is titled "The Fiction of Relationship," with a reading list that includes Herman Melville, Franz Kafka and Virginia Woolf.

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