Higher Education Quick Takes
edX, the nonprofit massive open online course provider started by Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, made a part of its source code available to the open source programming community on Thursday. Until more of its code is made public, developers won't be able to clone edX, but President Anant Agarwal said this week's release will let everyone get a peek at its architecture. He said the entire software platform will be made available in the "not-too-distant future." After that happens, colleges across the world could adapt edX's work and use it to host courses themselves.
edX's decision to eventually make its underlying software publicly available may differentiate it from other MOOC providers like Coursera and Udacity, which are both for-profit companies. This could do several things. First, the wide availability of edX's code could turn programmers across the world into developers for edX if they make useful plug-ins. It could also allow universities to start their own MOOCs without partnering with edX or one of its competitors. So far, edX has tried to position itself as highly selective and has only a dozen universities hosted on its platform compared to Coursera, which has 62.
Finally, there is at least some enthusiasm in the academic community for edX's open source aspirations. For instance, last month, the University of Toronto started offering courses on edX even though it already had a partnership with Coursera. The university's vice provost of academic programs, Cheryl Regehr, said that was in part because of edX's commitment to open source technology.
As has become common in recent years, some Republicans in Congress are trying to kill the National Science Foundation's support for political science research. Senator Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, has proposed that the $10 million a year spent by the NSF on political science research be shifted to the National Cancer Institute. "NSF’s political science program siphons valuable resources away from higher priority research that will yield greater applied benefits and potential to stir further innovation," said a fact sheet released by the senator. "This amendment does not aim to hinder science, but rather to allocate more support for research that will save lives."
Hunter R. Rawlings III, president of the Association of American Universities, sent a letter to senators, opposing the proposal. "The amendment sets up a false dichotomy between medical research and research in
the social sciences that we emphatically reject," Rawlings wrote. "The arguments for providing additional funds for NIH and specifically for NCI are obviously strong, and we wish Congress were providing more funding in FY13. However, such funding should not and need not come at the expense of political science research."
The letter went on to defend the value of political science research: "It provides critical information about how democracy works that is useful not only to this country but also to fledgling democracies seeking to make their new forms of government work. As Jonathan Bernstein has pointed out in The Washington Post, Congress and state legislators work very hard to enact legislation that affects our election processes. They deal with issues relating to funding, redistricting, voting rights and obligations, nomination processes, and others. If peer-reviewed academic research can help inform debates over these issues, that alone makes such research worthwhile."
More than a dozen cases of mumps have been reported at Loyola University Maryland in the last month, The Baltimore Sun reported. The mumps vaccine has largely removed mumps as a common health problem in the United States, but when outbreaks have broken out, college campuses have been places where mumps can spread quickly. Loyola officials have informed all students and employees of the outbreak, but an incubation period of two weeks prior to symptoms can make it difficult to identify all of those at risk.
Officials in New York State have drafted plans to spin off the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering from the State University of New York at Albany, The Albany Times Union reported. The plan would make the nanoscale college its own specialized college, much like SUNY's College of Environmental Science and Forestry. The nanoscale college has been a major research success for SUNY, attracting considerable industry support. State and SUNY officials declined to comment on the plan, which would require several levels of approval.
When the Roman Catholic church's new leader, Pope Francis, until Wednesday Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, was announced Wednesday, presidents of Catholic colleges sent out statements praising the choice ("We are excited to move forward under the leadership of Pope Francis I and we pray that the Catholic Church will grow under his guidance in wisdom and Christ’s grace," John Garvey, president of the Catholic University of America, said. "And we hope to welcome him to our campus some day.") But because Pope Francis is a Jesuit priest -- and the first of the order, whose members are generally discouraged from seeking high office within the church, to lead the world's Catholics -- Jesuit colleges in particular were happy.
"It has been a truly historic day for the Society of Jesus as we learned that our brother, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was selected to lead the Catholic Church as Pope Francis I. As Jesuits, we emphasize social justice in our ministry, and we are gratified to have a leader who will continue to live out this mission on a global stage," said the Rev. Gregory F. Lucey, president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, in a statement. College presidents echoed the message: "Pope Francis, as he has chosen to be forever known, shares a special bond with Scranton and all Jesuit colleges and universities across the globe as the first member of the Society of Jesus to be so elevated," said the Rev. Kevin P. Quinn, president of the University of Scranton. "When I heard the news that a Jesuit brother of mine would be the next Pope I was completely stunned... But that surprise yielded quickly to a profound sense of gratitude," said the Rev. Michael J. Graham, president of Xavier University.
In his role in Argentina, Pope Francis was chancellor of the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina. Early in his time as a Jesuit, he taught literature, psychology and philosophy, according to the National Catholic Reporter.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation this week announced new investments in adaptive learning, an increasingly popular approach in higher education that blends individualized instruction, peer tutoring and automated applications that adjust to a student's skill level. Education Growth Advisors released a report, funded by Gates, which found that adaptive learning is spreading slowly despite its potential. And the foundation announced a planned $100,000 grant aimed at U.S. colleges that seeks to help them create partnerships to launch adaptive courses.
The University of Colorado at Boulder on Wednesday announced the hiring of Steven Hayward as the first visiting scholar in conservative thought and policy. The position was created with $1 million in donations, and follows years of criticism of the left-leaning tilt on the Boulder faculty. Hayward has taught at Georgetown and held positions at a number of think tanks, including the the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation and the Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy. At Boulder, Hayward will teach constitutional law, American political thought and free-market environmentalism.
In a statement, Hayward called the creation of his position "a bold experiment for the university and me to see whether the ideological spectrum can be broadened in a serious and constructive way." He added that he hoped he would interact with students with a range of views. "Good teaching should make all students, of whatever disposition, better thinkers,” he said. “In the humanities, this should be done by considering fairly the full range of perspectives on a subject. That’s the way I intend to conduct classes while I am visiting at the university, and I hope that students of every kind of opinion will feel welcome in my classroom.”
The College of the Atlantic announced this week that its board voted to sell all fossil-fuel-related investments. The move follows a student push -- at that college and elsewhere -- to sell investments in companies whose businesses they believe are harmful to the environment. A spokeswoman for the college said that the total endowment is about $30 million and that the value of investments sold to comply with the policy was just under $1 million.