EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 7, 2013

High-schoolers at Harvard, MIT, via Internet

By Dustin Luca

---- — ANDOVER — While most high school students go into college unfamiliar with the on-campus lifestyle, the high school is piloting an effort that brings the experience to the students at home.

A group of 13 students at Andover High are enrolled in courses at edX, an online joint education venture between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard and other colleges to offer select courses over the Internet for free.

By completing the courses, the students receive course credit equivalent to a semester’s worth of work, according to Nancy Duclos, assistant superintendent.

But the students involved receive much more than a credit towards graduation, Duclos said. When logged in, they have access to some of the brightest minds in the education world.

“When you talk about exposure to different ideas and points of view ... I just think about the different depths [needed] to enter into that college environment,” she said.

In edX, lectures and classroom lessons are streamed over the Internet. Through the site, they can be replayed, slowed down, paused and more. Additional resources attached to each course augment lesson and quiz content, and discussion boards allow students and faculty to collaborate, go over the lessons and dig deeper.

When asked what they thought about the venture, the students enrolled in edX courses said the quantity of work lines up with high school-level work, though the quality makes it more difficult and, ultimately, more enriching.

Because of that, many of them said they’re enrolled in a crash course in college life more than anything else.

“My class, it shows this huge lecture hall, kids walking in late,” John Nossiff, 16, said. “There’s a balcony for extra seating. It’s got to be a thousand people, so it gives you a sense of how classes go at big schools.”

“I didn’t know if I’d want big or small class sizes, but they showed me through these lectures that [students] are still able to participate, even in these huge lecture halls,” 17-year-old Mimi Olney added.

Because the course work is college-level material, there is also a level of preparedness students enrolled in edX benefit from.

“You really have to be self-motivated to do the work, and that’s a big thing you need to do in college,” Grace Anne Castro, 16, said.

“It prepares you for the actual college classes, which is nice because you have an expectation of what your classes can be like once you get into college,” 16-year-old Jordan Janeiro said.

As it stands, there isn’t a way that the system can be tied to a student’s grade point average since completing a course only offers a certificate, Duclos said. The only tangible reward they get for the work is the course credit.

But Nikhil Chopra, 16, said if given a choice, he would keep it that way.

“It’s more enrichment for your mind and understanding rather than an academic boost. A program like this is really important for delving into what you’re going to be learning in college,” he said. “If you’re letting it just be something you can learn from and enrich yourself with, it’s more effective than an academic goal.”

Bringing the project to Andover was orchestrated by School Committee member David Birnbach, who said he has connections both at MIT and within edX.

The partnership between the organization and the school swings both ways, he said. While students at the high school benefit from college-level programming, edX is also able to study how well high school-aged minds engage, respond to and complete programming at a higher level.

“The online learning experience is getting more pervasive and will be part of the student’s learning going forward,” he said.

If the pilot is successful, Birnbach said he can see “the number of students at Andover High taking edX courses increasing, and I imagine more of our students being able to get exposure to the online experience moving forward.”

For more information or to enroll in a course, visit www.edx.org.