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Quality, Community, and Scale: Studyportals Webinar Addresses Key Challenges in Higher Ed

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Q. Are the credentials earned from online learning of the same caliber of those from traditional models?

A. Online learning is considered to be as effective as in-person learning today. A truly impactful, robust online learning experience that supports student engagement and success takes more than placing a camera in a classroom. The edX platform is designed using the active learning approach, developed based on neuroscience research from the McGovern Brain Institute. Engaging lectures, social learning opportunities, student communities, and other assessment and engagement types in edX courses deliver learning that is retained, applicable on the job and built upon over time.

This is why universities around the world accept edX credentials as part of their degree programs. The European Credit Transfer system (ECTS) already awards credits for online courses, which are recognized at institutions across the region. edX MicroMasters® programs and MicroBachelors® programs also establish credit pathways that can be applied to full degree programs, whether online or on campus. In addition to providing credit-bearing credentials for transfer onto campus, students can also acquire an entire degree online. For example, students receive exactly the same MBA degree from Boston University whether taken online through edX or in person. Similarly, the Master’s Degree program in Computer Science from University of Texas at Austin has the identical degree online—and for one-quarter the cost of the on-campus program.

These are just a few examples of how higher education institutions globally recognize the quality represented by online course and program credentials and do not distinguish between learning acquired online or on campus.

Q. How can an online environment provide adequate engagement and communitycritical elements of the student experience and successin particular for new and international students?

A. Exposure to new social and cultural experiences are irrefutably critical to learning and development. But these types of interactions are not solely dependent on a campus or classroom. High-quality, intentional online program pedagogy can support student engagement and social learning as part of an overall learning environment. The edX platform possesses multiple features that spur student engagement. For many students, digital natives, an online environment is a familiar and user-friendly place to commune and learn. The modular structure of edX courses allows students to engage in course work anytime and anywhere. Along with affording the flexibility today’s students demand, the edX course design also includes multiple assessment types to keep students motivated and progressing, including collaborative projects, in-course prompts and community boards.

Beyond the platform experience itself, online learning can also spur student engagement and community in its ability to assume some of the more impersonal and rote work of faculty, such as lecturing, delivering problem sets, and grading. Many universities leverage edX Online Campus as its digital Teaching Assistant. This allows instructors to optimize any in-person time for mentorship, reinforce ideas, and generally foster a sense of community and connection among students.

Q. The COVID-19 landscape is especially challenging for smaller schools and those which are particularly limited in resources. What are some ways they can keep pace?

A. edX was founded in 2012 by Harvard and MIT for this exact purpose: to create and deliver quality online learning experiences and make them accessible to learners around the world. As such, we understand the enormous potential and significant challenges of moving courses online, especially if your institution is facing enrollment and resource constraints or does not possess the technology and other expertise needed to undertake this endeavor.

The general consensus is that higher education en masse is moving towards hybrid approaches that incorporate online courses. Instead of trying to duplicate the efforts of other institutions, this is an opportunity to capitalize on existing resources. For example, edX Online Campus offers solutions for universities that need supplemental digital content to provide more asynchronous learning opportunities in existing courses. By leveraging ready-made online resources, faculty can focus precious classroom time (whatever form that takes) supporting student success, allowing students to learn at their own pace and get help when they need it, and opening the opportunity to scale class sizes.

Institutions leverage online courses to add new, in-demand content to their catalogs, requiring only minimal levels of faculty facilitation to clarify concepts and provide other support. By adding more breadth and depth to their catalogs in subjects like computer science, data science and analytics, business, and more, institutions can attract and engage more students and help them be ready for the demands of the professional world.

Additionally, colleges and universities can support independent learning opportunities by slotting existing online courses into their offerings. Now, a school can add new and special programming, offer extra credit, deliver pre-requisites, and provide professional development opportunities for faculty and staff in a turnkey and scalable way by making online learning a part of their strategies for the short- and long-terms.

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In a September 2020 webinar event, edX Founder and CEO Anant Agarwal and ANU Vice-Chancellor and President Brian P. Schmidt sat down with Studyportals CEO and Co-Founder Edwin van Rest to discuss the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the student experience, especially for the new and international student populations so critical to driving enrollments and success. Quality, community, and scalability were top-of-mind for most attendees. In this post, we address attendees’ top questions a bit further.