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ANU joins MOOCs rush with edX partnership

ANU has become the first Australian member of Massive Open Online Course provider edX, with ANU professor and Nobel Laureate…

Nobel Laureate and ANU astronomer Brian Schmidt will teach one of ANU’s first open online courses. AAP/Alan Porritt

ANU has become the first Australian member of Massive Open Online Course provider edX, with ANU professor and Nobel Laureate Brian Schmidt to teach one of ANU’s first online courses.

edX is owned jointly by Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and aims to provide education to one billion people worldwide within 10 years.

The move comes after ANU Vice-Chancellor Ian Young last year said ANU was unlikely to ever become a major online provider, arguing ivy league universities risked devaluing their product by offering it to the masses for free.

Professor Young today said that edX was “the right fit” for ANU, and that the offering would allow the university to have its education seen by thousands of people around the world.

Professor Schmidt said edX brought together the best universities in a non-profit model, which was entirely appropriate for ANU.

“It will help us potentially teach students who can’t come to ANU for a range of reasons, but more interestingly, help us reach high school students and help us make up for some of the deficiencies in secondary education around the country due to shortages of highly qualified teachers,” Professor Schmidt said.

The move by University of Melbourne to join MOOC provider Coursera, and the subsequent publicity it received, is likely to be part of the reason ANU has partnered with edX, said Andrew Norton, program director of higher education at the Grattan Institute.

“I would say it’s a combination of Brian Schmidt wanting to do it and ANU wanting to raise its profile,” Mr Norton said.

Mr Norton said Professor Schmidt would be a drawcard in attracting students to the course from around the world, however added that the University of Melbourne had attracted good numbers to its online courses without the need for academics that were known outside the institution.

The first two ANU courses through edX will be Astrophysics taught by Professor Schmidt and astronomer Dr Paul Francis, and Engaging India, taught by Dr McComas Taylor and Dr Peter Friedlander.

The courses are expected to be fully operational in 2014 after a trial period this year.