This IHE article on the Harvard / MIT entrant into the MOOC (massively open online course) sweepstakes complements our previous discussion and brings to the fore another aspect of this initiative, producing commercial software based on the "learning data" generated by the students working in the courses. (Those who don't think such commercialization is a prime incentive here should line up for their chance to purchase shares in a large transport edifice linking these two islands.)
Harvard and MIT say one of their main goals with edX is to generate learning data that the universities can share freely with education researchers. The MITx platform, which will serve as the technology platform for edX, “already has a lot of mechanisms for understanding how students are learning," said Anant Agarwal, a computer science and engineering professor at MIT and the first president of edX. "These data will be available to researchers at MIT and Harvard and other universities around the world,” he said.
The combination of the data-rich online medium and the scale edX hopes to achieve will "enable [education researchers] to ask very different questions than we’ve been able to ask before," said Alan Garber, the provost at Harvard. By crunching granular data on the activity of students in the edX environment, educators will be able to get a sense not only of how well they perform on high-stakes tests but also “how well they acquire and apply the information months after a class has ended,” Garber said.
In a subtle swipe at the proprietary companies (like Coursera and Udacity) that have also built platforms through which top-tier universities can run MOOCs, L. Rafael Reif, the MIT provost, suggested that the ethic of transparency and public-mindedness Harvard and MIT bring to the table will make edX a more generous and responsible curator of the learning data that MOOC platforms will accumulate.
“We feel very strongly that that data should be available for research under the governance of a not-for-profit structure,” Reif said.
Yeah, because we all know that not-for-profit universities would have no interest whatsoever in spinning off commercial technologies based on data generated from studying student behavior.