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The X-factor of education

TU Delft joins the education revolution. Sharing space with Harvard and MIT, the university will soon offer four online courses on EdX.

In 2012, education began to change. Over forty leading universities reached out to three million people around the world. Professors from top level colleges such as Harvard, Stanford, Princeton and several others offered over 200 free Massive Open Online Courses (mooc).

Now, TU Delft is ready to join the mooc revolution. In Fall 2013, TU will offer two courses on Edx: Introduction to Water Treatment by Prof. Jules van Lier and Solar Energy by Dr. Arno Smets. In 2014, Prof. Jacco Hoekstra will also offer a course called Introduction to Aerospace Engineering. Edx and Coursera are the two big mooc platforms in the world. Today, Coursera has 61 universities, 331 courses and goes out to over 3.1 million students. EdX, a more elite platform started by Harvard and MIT, has 12 universities on board and reaches out to about 50,000 students per course. Last year, TU decided to sign up with Edx and now has an online identity called DelftX. “We decided to focus on quality rather than quantity. EdX has only the best names, such as Harvard, MIT and Berkeley and, now, TU Delft,” says Willem van Valkenburg, the head of the Education Technology team of TU. “Open education is not just free, it’s also one where people can participate at their own level of interest and ability. EdX is a nonprofit organisation that is really focussed on research of innovation in education,” he adds.

Van Valkenburg says the day he announced the Delft-EdX partnership on Twitter, his newsfeed was buzzing with congratulatory messages from TU students. “Students are really proud that their university and professors are part of this massive movement. As for professors, well, they’ll be rockstars. One mooc reaches out to more students than one can teach in their entire career,” he adds.

For professors though, creating a new module of education is an interesting challenge. “The good thing is that there are many examples, good and bad, to inspire you about how it should or should not be done. I’m not going to change the content of the course, but only the format. I’m making shorter clips on top of the full lectures using a Khan-academy format, which I really love. And I’m adding challenges to introduce an online gaming atmosphere for motivation,” says Prof Hoekstra, Dean of the faculty of Aerospace Engineering.

Despite the excitement, neither professor believes that on-campus education will cease to exist. While that is a debate for futurists to take on, at the moment, there may be more big news on the horizon.

“As a true European, I also think we should take the lead in setting up a European online education platform. I have discussed this in Brussels already quite some time ago and I know it’s something the European Commission will be stimulating in their Horizon 2020 plans for aerospace engineering education,” says Prof Hoekstra.

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