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Provost John Coatsworth announced Columbia's new partnership with edX, a not-for-profit platform for massive open online courses on Thursday. History professor Eric Foner will teach the first course through the partnership.

Columbia may soon expand its online learning opportunities, thanks to the University's partnership with edX, announced Thursday afternoon.

Though various Columbia professors have taught massive open online courses through other platforms, including Coursera and Fathom, no University-wide partnerships had been established before Thursday's announcement.

edX is a nonprofit online learning platform co-founded by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2012 that offers free and open online courses. edX currently works with 33 colleges and universities, including 18 international institutions, allowing the platform to offer courses in other languages.

"We have, for a long time, wanted to partner with edX," Soulaymane Kachani, the special assistant to the provost for online education, said. "This conversation started almost two years ago, at the end of the spring of 2012."

"We were very interested in the not-for-profit model of edX, and the edX community they have been able to foster and shape over the past two years in operation," Kachani said.

Kachani's new role was announced in Provost John Coatsworth's spring update on Feb. 28. Kachani is taking over from former Chief Digital Officer Sree Sreenivasan, who left Columbia for a new role at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in August.

In a statement on Thursday, Coatsworth said that the University will offer courses through edX in fields ranging from the humanities to the sciences.

The first course offered through edX is The United States in the Era of the Civil War and Reconstruction, taught by history professor Eric Foner.

"I think professor Foner is a legend ... and having his courses on the civil war on edX will significantly enhance the quality of the courses on edX," Anant Agarwal, the president of edX, said.

Foner, who is planning to retire at the end of the 2014-15 school year, is teaching the course for the last time this semester, and the lectures and discussion sections have been recorded.  

"I've been teaching the students the way I've always taught them," Foner said, adding that he didn't notice the cameras after the first few weeks of the semester.

"I'm not a high-tech person," Foner added. "To me, this is just a way to disseminate knowledge to a broad audience."

Foner said that he was also glad that the course "can be available to people long after I've left the University."

The Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning will help produce Foner's course and help further define the collaboration.

Part of the collaboration will also include research on long-distance learning, similar to what has been done at Harvard and MIT, in order to understand how to better format live lectures to an online audience.

Kachani said that edX will provide "goldmines of data to do research to learn how we can improve teaching on campus."

Both edX and Columbia are optimistic about the benefits of the new partnership.

"We are absolutely honored to have Columbia working with us," Agarwal said.  |  @ColumbiaSpec

Soulaymane Kachani online education MOOCs massive open online courses John Coatsworth edX