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Berkeley Contributes Online-Learning Platform to edX

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University have each contributed $30-million to the edX online-learning program, but a third university will provide technology instead. The University of California at Berkeley is bringing a new online platform to the project.

The nonprofit group edX is working to create courses specifically for online learning; seven of them will start this fall. The new platform, called CourseSharing, allows students to complete multiple-choice assignments online and receive automated grades and feedback as soon as they click “submit.”

CourseSharing was developed by Pieter Abbeel and Dawn Song, professors of computer science at Berkeley, and a Ph.D. student, Arjun Singh. They tested the program last spring in an artificial-intelligence course. (People can test out the technology at the class site; registration is required, but any e-mail address and student ID will do.) The platform also allows professors to create interactive videos.

The idea was to automate as many parts of the course as possible, Mr. Singh said, since assignments handed in on paper take longer to grade, and students don’t receive feedback very quickly.

“The beauty of the system, whether massive or nonmassive, is that students get instant feedback when they don’t get it right, and they can keep working,” Mr. Abbeel said. “But students who know it are done right away.”

The team reached out to edX after the announcement of the Harvard-MIT partnership in May, then spoke with Berkeley administrators, who negotiated the partnership.

The group had planned to introduce CourseSharing at Berkeley this summer, but, in light of the partnership, it will work on integrating the platform with the existing edX program instead. Mr. Singh and three other Berkeley students are working at the edX offices in Cambridge, Mass.

“We’re taking the relevant bits of CourseSharing that they don’t have yet, and putting them into edX,” Mr. Singh said.

Mr. Abbeel, Mr. Singh, and Ms. Song all emphasized the importance of open-source platforms like edX, which will offer its platform free to anyone who wants to use it.

The group was interested in offering the computer-science course on the online-education program that would become Coursera, Mr. Singh said, but “the deal-breaker was that it wasn’t open-source.”

Correction (7/30, 2:06 p.m.): This article originally reported incorrectly that professors at Stanford University, then developing the online-education program Coursera, were interested in using Berkeley’s CourseSharing platform. In fact, Mr. Abbeel and Mr. Singh were interested in offering their computer-science class via the Coursera platform, but decided against doing so because the platform is not open-source. They decided to instead build their own platform, which became CourseSharing. The text of the article has been updated to reflect this correction. 

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