Research & Pedagogy

Working with our xConsortium of university partners, edX is empowering research on pedagogy or learning about learning.

The online environment provides a powerful platform to conduct experiments, exploring how students learn and how faculty can best teach using a variety of novel tools and techniques.

Fundamental questions include:

  • What motivates students to learn and persist?
  • What helps students retain knowledge?
  • What are the best ways to teach complex ideas?
  • How can we assess what students have learned?
  • What is best taught in person vs. online?

By carefully assessing course data, from mouse clicks to time spent on tasks, to evaluating how students respond to various assessments, researchers hope to shed light on how learners access information and master materials, with the ultimate aim of improving course outcomes.

We are not only expanding access to knowledge, but developing best practices to enhance the student experience and improve teaching and learning both on campus and online.

Below you will find a sampling of research papers authored by our xConsortium partners:

Can Physics Be Taught Like Soccer?

U.S.News 15 Nov 2015 By The Hechinger Report
Our nation is rather good at grooming youngsters to become excellent athletes. So a Chinese physicist who is doing his post-doctoral research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology wondered if college physics could be taught the same way that coaches teach soccer, and get better results. Just the way that great soccer coaches break the game down into specific skills, such as passing, receiving and shooting, and have kids practice these skills until they master them, Zhongzhou Chen is trying to break down the field of physics into simpler skills that students can master through practice. Read more about [field_news_headline_1]

Leveraging MOOCs for Credit-Granting Institutions: Results from a Community College Pilot Study.

HarvardX & Boston College - Lynch School of Education 25 Jun 2015 By Damian J Bebell, Boston College - Lynch School of Education and Rebecca Petersen, Harvard University - HarvardX
Despite widespread interest, excitement, and skepticism about massive online open courses (MOOCs) from the post-secondary educational community, few studies describe the ways MOOCs have been implemented in residential classes and their impacts. This paper explores the development, implementation, and evaluation results from an initial empirical study exploring the efficacy of integrating massive online open course (MOOC) content in a traditional, for-credit community college setting. In addition to demonstrating the “proof-of-concept” of this “blended” approach with students, the paper highlights some of the learning conditions, obstacles, and opportunities in using MOOC resources in residential learning, particularly for underserved student populations. Read more about [field_news_headline_1]
HarvardX & Boston College - Lynch School of Education

HarvardX and MITx: Two Years of Open Online Courses Fall 2012-Summer 2014

HarvardX and MITx 1 Apr 2015 By A.D. Ho, I. Chuang, J. Reich, C.A. Coleman, J. Whitehill, C.G. Northcutt, J.J. Williams, J.D. Williams, J.D. Hansen, G. Lopez, R. Petersen
What happens when well-known universities offer online courses, assessments, and certificates of completion for free? Early descriptions of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have emphasized large enrollments, low certification rates, and highly educated registrants. We use data from two years and 68 open online courses offered by Harvard University (via HarvardX) and MIT (via MITx) to broaden the scope of answers to this question. We describe trends over this two-year span, depict participant intent using comprehensive survey instruments, and chart course participation pathways using network analysis. We find that overall participation in our MOOCs remains substantial and that the average growth has been steady. We explore how diverse audiences — including explorers, teachers-as-learners, and residential students — provide opportunities to advance the principles on which HarvardX and MITx were founded: access, research, and residential education.​ Read more about [field_news_headline_1]

Enrollment in MITx MOOCs: Are We Educating Educators?

Educause Review 9 Feb 2015 By Daniel Seaton, Cody Coleman, Jon Daries, Isaac Chuang
At MITx (MIT's MOOC organization), early MOOC experiments have indicated that teachers are indeed enrolling. The MITx course known as 8.MReV: Mechanics Review, which derived from an introductory on-campus physics course at MIT, was initially advertised as a challenging course for high school students. On completion, however, course staff recognized that high school teachers were an active contingent.10 In response, the course team partnered with the American Association of Physics Teachers to offer continuing education units in subsequent offerings. Read more about [field_news_headline_1]
Educause Review

Staggered Versus All-At-Once Content Release in Massive Open Online Courses: Evaluating a Natural Experiment

HarvardX 24 Sep 2014 By Tommy Mulaney and Justin Reich
We report on an experiment testing the effects of releasing all of the content in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) at launch versus a staggered release. In 2013, HarvardX offered two “runs” of the HeroesX course: In the first, content was released weekly over four months; in the second, all content was released at once. We develop three operationalizations of “ontrackedness” to measure how students participated in sync with the recommended syllabus. Ontrackedness in both versions was low, though in the second, mean ontrackedness was approximately one-half of levels in the first HeroesX. We find few differences in persistence, participation, and completion between the two runs. Controlling for a students’ number of active weeks, we estimate modest positive effects of ontrackedness on certification. The revealed preferences of students for flexibility and the minimal benefits of ontrackedness suggest that releasing content all at once may be a viable strategy for MOOC designers. Read more about [field_news_headline_1]

Computer-Assisted Reading and Discovery for Student Generated Text in Massive Open Online Courses

HarvardX 22 Sep 2014 By Justin Reich, Dustin Tingley, Jetson Leder-­Luis, Margaret E. Roberts, Brandon M. Stewart
Dealing with the vast quantities of text that students generate in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) is a daunting challenge. Computational tools are needed to help instructional teams uncover themes and patterns as MOOC students write in forums, assignments, and surveys. This paper introduces to the learning analytics community the Structural Topic Model, an approach to language processing that can (1) find syntactic patterns with semantic meaning in unstructured text, (2) identify variation in those patterns across covariates, and (3) uncover archetypal texts that exemplify the documents within a topical pattern. We show examples of computationally-aided discovery and reading in three MOOC settings: mapping students’ self-reported motivations, identifying themes in discussion forums, and uncovering patterns of feedback in course evaluations. Read more about [field_news_headline_1]

Learning in an Introductory Physics MOOC: All Cohorts Learn Equally, Including an On-Campus Class

The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning 1 Sep 2014 By Kimberly F Colvin, John Champaign, Alwina Liu, Qian Zhou, Colin Fredericks, and David E Pritchard
The recent release of hundreds of free online courses in MOOCs (massive open online courses) by organizations such as Coursera, edX, and Udacity has been so dramatic that an article in the New York Times proclaimed 2012 the “Year of the MOOC” (Pappano, 2012). These MOOCs, often digitizations of standard, relatively introductory courses from top 50 universities (and especially MIT, Harvard, Berkeley, and Stanford), have provoked multidimensional discussions and special issues of various publications. Nevertheless, few studies have attempted to use MOOC data to address the central question: “is there learning in MOOCs?” Read more about [field_news_headline_1]

The Transformative Potential of Blended Learning Using MIT edX’s 6.002x Online MOOC Content Combined with Student Team-Based Learning in Class

San Jose State University 15 Aug 2014 By Khosrow Ghadiri, Senior Member, IEEE, Mohammad H. Qayoumi, Senior Member, IEEE, Ellen Junn, Ping Hsu Member, IEEE, and Sutee Sujitparapitaya
This pilot implemented a blended model of learning  by merging content from an online MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) with in-class, team-based instruction as part of a required undergraduate circuit theory course. The central objective of this pilot was to examine how adaptation of the new MIT edX 6.002x (Electronics and Circuits) MOOC-content in a flipped model of teaching might improve student learning in a credit-bearing college course. Multiple objectives for this pilot included: (1) improve the department’s typical passage rate of 59% for this course; (2) improve students’ retention rate; (3)
shorten students’ time-to-degree; (4) improve the quality of the content of the course; and (5) reduce the prerequisite contribution for successful passage of subsequent courses. Student pass rates from the blended Fall 2012 pilot jumped to 91%, as compared to a 59% passage rate from the previous
year’s traditional face-to face lecture class. It appears that adaptation of high quality MOOC content using a blended approach and in conjunction with a highly structured in-class team-based approach can produce significant benefits in transforming student learning and success.
Read more about [field_news_headline_1]
San Jose State University

Privacy, Anonymity, and Big Data in the Social Sciences

acmqueue 14 Aug 2014 By Jon P. Daries, Justin Reich, Jim Waldo, Elise M. Young, Jonathan Whittinghill, Daniel Thomas Seaton, Andrew Dean Ho, Isaac Chuang
Open data has tremendous potential for science, but, in human subjects research, there is a tension between privacy and releasing high-quality open data. Federal law governing student privacy and the release of student records suggests that anonymizing student data protects student privacy. Read more about [field_news_headline_1]

Developing and Implementing Effective Instructional Stratgems in STEM

San Jose State University 15 Jun 2014 By Dr. Khosrow Ghadiri
Striving for enriched content and better and more effective instructional delivery models are sincere desires of every faculty member. The advent of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs)  has opened new possibilities. One of the innovative ways of utilizing MOOCs, especially for  challenging subjects and more challenging courses, is as a “flipped classroom”. These new  delivery models can enhance student engagement, improve student retention, and reduce  significantly student failure rate. This is even more critical today with millennial students, because keeping their attention for a traditional 50 to 75 minutes in the lecture hall and having  them listen passively to their lecturer is not realistic. Read more about [field_news_headline_1]
San Jose State University