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[January 27, 2013]
Study at Harvard law? Just go online
Jan 27, 2013 (Boston Herald - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Harvard Law School is logging on to a $60 million online education enterprise between its parent university and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology by offering a free copyright course for students unable to set foot on the hallowed Ivy League campus.
Classes start tomorrow for "HLS1x: Copyright," taught by intellectual property law professor William Fisher. Though the 12-week edX course is only open to 500 people, more than 4,100 applied to participate in pre-recorded lectures, live webcasts, online forums and 80-minute seminars conducted by teaching fellows at the graduate school.
"It takes me roughly a week to prepare each lecture," Fisher said. "I've lectured on these topics for decades. Preparing one for this setting turns out to be hard." No legal background or prerequisites were required. Students as young as 13 were encouraged to apply, provided they could spend eight hours a week learning and discussing the course material.
"Will this approach to education ever take the place of residential instruction I don't know," Fisher said. "But I would very much doubt that it replaces it altogether. The more likely scenario is that it will supplement residential education, which has some advantages that can never be mimicked online." Launched in May, edX has enrolled more than 600,000 students from 192 countries and counts the University of California-Berkeley, Wellesley College, Georgetown University and the University of Texas as partner institutions. Other new all-Web courses on the docket this year from MITx, HarvardX and BerkeleyX include "Electricity and Magnetism," "The Ancient Greek Hero" and "The Challenges of Global Poverty." The nonprofit venture, which plans to align with the world's leading universities, edX, defines itself as the "ultimate democratization of education" -- anyone can sign up for courses if they have a computer and an Internet connection, said the platform's president, Anant Agarwal.
"If you walked into a classroom 100 years ago and walked into a classroom today, the only difference is they spray-painted the seats a different color. That's it," Agarwal told the Herald in a phone interview from Davos, Switzerland. "For the first time we are really thinking about how to really re-imagine our campus." Students who complete edX courses receive certificates from the underlying universities, yet campuses such as the University of Texas are considering offering systemic credit for students in the future, Agarwal said, adding courses will ultimately cover all disciplines at undergraduate and graduate levels.
Other massive open online course platforms, known as MOOCs, include Udacity and Coursera, both of Stanford University. Colleges such as the University of Massachusetts and Penn State offer full online degrees, while the University of Wisconsin has unveiled a "Flexible Option" program that allows students to earn bachelor's degrees by taking online competency tests about what they know.
Despite continued academic investments in online education, it could take years before all students can snag degrees solely from the comforts of home, said Steve Kolowich of the Chronicle of Higher Education.
"Right now it seems hard to conceive of feeling the same kind of friendship or solidarity with the other 100,000 people you took an MIT online course with compared to the person who sat next to you in a 60-person course and you got beers with after your study group was over," he said.
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