HarvardX at and for Harvard

HarvardX serves as “incubator” and test bed for faculty across the university, providing support and resources for highly experimental endeavors that push the boundaries of learning. Through our course development process, HarvardX empowers faculty to…

  • produce best-in-class online materials (i.e. “Science and Cooking” and the future “History of the Book”);
  • use experimental approaches (such as non-linear pathways for learning with “Fundamentals of Neuroscience”);
  • offer multiple modes of engagement, i.e. “National Security,” a small private course within the larger open one that allows deeper exploration of pedagogies applicable to on-campus courses);
  • produce learning content in smaller elements (a process often referred to as modularization) that can be repurposed and adapted for different audiences (such as with the Poetry in America series that is becoming a television program and teacher training program as well as a set of HarvardX courses); and build related, fundamental learning tools (such the annotation tool and document image viewer technologies.)

Through the approaches outlined above, HarvardX acts as a change agent within Harvard, allowing the space, time, and resources to support faculty (and in some cases, deans and schools) in developing experimental, cutting-edge courses which can become fully realized endeavors that enhance the broader missions of the Schools and the University. We have already seen success in this approach. For example…

  • The groundwork for the T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s low-residency, hybrid MPH degree program in epidemiology was supported by HarvardX in the form of eight MOOCs created by faculty from the school.
  • CopyrightX, produced in collaboration with the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, began as a small private online course or SPOC (one of the first of its kind), and has evolved into a fully networked course (on-campus, online, and through satellite programs connecting more than a dozen universities globally).
  • An e-publication/iBook is being produced as part of the “Science and Cooking” course. This might lead to approaches for HarvardX and Harvard schools to repurpose MOOC content into other types of learning assets for use on campus and for paid distribution in the content marketplace.
  • HarvardX, while indirectly, helped to spur the adoption of CS50 at Yale (by sheer visibility and exposure of the MOOC) and helped to bolster an entire start-up company, LaunchCode, through access to and partnership with CS50x (a course the non-profit uses for training future programmers).
  • The HarvardX learner population is also being presented with related learning opportunities through Harvard’s schools, yielding promising marketing opportunities for fee-based programs like HBX Core, HMS Executive Education, and the new HSPH hybrid MPH degree. 

There has been a particularly strong commitment to HarvardX and interest in HarvardX course development by members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) and others who teach in Harvard College, given the potential to enhance residential learning. For many faculty who teach undergraduates, a MOOC is a byproduct of their commitment to excellence in the classroom. Examples of this faculty commitment include...

  • ChinaX (SW12x). Professors Peter Bol and William Kirby implemented a flipped classroom model at Harvard University in SW12 (Societies of the World 12) in the fall of 2013 and again in the fall of 2014. For both iterations of the undergraduate course, students watched ChinaX content outside of class, instead of lecture, and discussed the content and readings in class. This transition continues to be studied by VPAL researchers, using survey and quasi-experimental methods and taking advantage of standard assessments given from year to year.
  • Introduction to Computer Science (CS50X). Professor David Malan designed the “CS50 Appliance,” a virtual environment for students to develop code and receive feedback (Malan, 2013). Professor Malan has used data from the appliance to understand and improve how students code and use feedback. Innovations like online office hours have increased both the timeliness and use of feedback by residential students.
  • Visualizing Japan (1850's - 1930's): Westernization, Protest, Modernity (VjX). This first-time MITx-HarvardX collaboration, managed primarily by HarvardX, featured faculty at both institutions and launched on edX in the fall of 2014. It was simultaneously employed in an on-campus course at MIT, taught by Professor Shigeru Miyagawa, who noted in a correspondence: "For me, teaching the residential Visualizing Japan class (9 students, as opposed to 9,000!) simultaneously with the MOOC has been one of the most exciting teaching experiences of my career. It has fundamentally transformed the way I teach”. While every faculty member engaged with new forms of online teaching through HarvardX has a specific story to tell about their experience, we have found a few general themes emerging, such as faculty reporting that engaging with HarvardX has made them rethink their teaching, has resulted in unexpected innovations in their residential courses, and given them the ability to connect with on-global students in new ways that benefit learners on campus.
  • Expanding the reach of teaching also expands access to other campus resources, such as library and museum collections. The use of 3D digital technologies to allow learners to virtually manipulate Chinese artifacts and maps; the ability to annotate The Book of Hours, digitally; the chance to get down to the pigment level of the original poems written by Emily Dickinson – these are just a few of the ways that faculty have surfaced the collections at Harvard. Several courses, “Tangible Things: Discovering History Through Artwork, Artifacts, Scientific Specimens, and the Stuff Around You,” “Visualizing Japan”, and the future “History of the Book,” all use objects as the basis for much of the learning content.
  • Harvard humanities faculty have found MOOCs compatible with the liberal arts, counter to assumptions that MOOCs are best suited to computer science or technical courses. In the case of Harvard and HarvardX, about half the courses created to date have been in the liberal arts. “The Ancient Greek Hero,” a discussion and text based course that emphasized dialogue and close reading, may have seemed unsuitable for a digital environment. Professor Lisa New, who developed “Early American Poetry,” found the production possibilities liberating, using location shoots with cultural icons (former President Bill Clinton) and even celebrities (the rapper Nas) as a way to entice new learners into the study of poetry.
  • In partnerships with groups such as the Harvard Alumni Association and Harvard Allston Education Portal, HarvardX co-developed and ran several experimental programs last year. The goal was to learn from them and find ways to move forward to ensure that HX engages not just on-campus and on-line, but is deeply connected to the surrounding communities, from residents to alumni to parents.