Professor Michael Sandel’s Justice course is an introduction to moral and political philosophy, including discussion of contemporary dilemmas and controversies. It has been a fixture of Harvard’s College of Arts and Sciences for years, serving over 15,000 students on campus. Professor Sandel’s teaching style is distinguished by the Socratic dialogues he facilitates with hundreds of students in Sanders Theatre, and he was featured in Ken Bain’s research study of excellent teachers, What the Best College Teachers Do. Like several of the first HarvardX classes, Justice had an online life before HarvardX. In 2009, WGBH partnered with Professor Sandel and Harvard University to broadcast the Justice course on television, which was complemented in 2011 by justiceharvard.org, a site combining online videos and discussion forums. The first of the 12 episodes of WGBH’s Justice production has been viewed by millions on television and on YouTube. This is a course with a long, highly-regarded history.
JusticeX extends the Justice learning experience onto the edX platform. The course officially launched on March 3, 2013, and content was released starting March 12. All course content, including the final exam, was released by May 31st and students wishing to earn a certificate needed to submit all graded work by August 2nd. Participants could still register and use the courseware beyond this submission date, and we collected data on activity through September 8, 2013.
The report was prepared by researchers external to the course team, based on an examination of the courseware, analyses of data collected by the edX platform, and interviews with the course faculty and team members.
The report proceeds in four parts. We begin by describing the goals and structure of of JusticeX, in the belief that any learning environment should be evaluated in the context of its intents, values, and vision. We then provide descriptive statistics about the students who registered for JusticeX and compare them to other HarvardX students. With an understanding of what the course team created and the learners who took an interest in the course, we then turn to examining how participants interacted with the resources, including their patterns of assessment-taking, persistence, and overall activity. We end by examining the limits of our understanding of student learning in JusticeX and future research directions for online humanities courses.
Our hope is that this report and its companion reports—including a synthetic multiple-course report and other reports from the first HarvardX courses—will inspire new avenues of research and provide insights to future course designers in designing the next generation of open online courses.