Reception for UK students admitted to Harvard
On Saturday 12 May the annual reception took place in London for UK students who will be starting at Harvard College this autumn. It was also attended by parents and some of the alumni who interviewed UK applicants earlier in the year.
Yuko Thomas, President of the Harvard Club of the United Kingdom (HCUK), welcomed everyone to the gathering and was joined by members of the HCUK executive. Students were able to get to know their future classmates and also chatted to recent graduates about what they can expect when they arrive on campus. Parents welcomed the opportunity to talk about the practicalities of supporting their offspring during their four years of undergraduate study across the Atlantic.
Harvard is unusual in that every UK applicant has the opportunity for a one-to-one interview with a Harvard alumnus or alumna. The personal qualities of applicants are very important to the admissions process, so the Harvard Club and its interview co-ordinator, Verity Langley, go to a lot of trouble to arrange face to face meetings with every applicant.
The interviews are very informal, often taking place in a cafe, and consist of a two way conversation about each individual’s interests, ambitions and challenges. This ensures that all candidates have a fair opportunity to discuss their achievements with someone who has been to Harvard themselves. After each interview, the interviewer submits a report to the Admissions Office which is placed with the candidate’s application form and other application materials including exam grades, school reports and references. Admissions Officers then review all the materials to arrive at a ‘whole-person’ assessment of the candidate’s suitability for admission.
You don’t have to go to Harvard to take a Harvard class:
MOOCs, edX, HarvardX, and MITx
Many people are unaware that you don’t have to attend university to take university-level courses, as many of them are available online as a Massive Open Online Course, or MOOC. The first MOOC was offered in 2008 by the University of Manitoba and was called Connectivism and Connective Knowledge. Twenty-five students from the university were joined by 2,300 non-paying students from the general public who took the course online. Since then, millions of people all over the world have taken a MOOC – the term was even added to the Oxford online dictionary in August 2013.
In 2012, Harvard and MIT jointly launched edX, a non-profit online learning platform and MOOC provider offering high-quality courses from the world’s best universities. With 100 global partners and 14 million registered users it is now one of the world’s largest online learning platforms. MOOCs are offered at no cost to anyone, anywhere in the world, as long as they have an internet connection. Some providers, including HarvardX, offer optional certification exams for a payment of between $49 – $199, depending on the length and level of the MOOC. Courses are based on videos, articles, games, social learning, quizzes, assignments and other methods which can be conveniently accessed at anytime, from anywhere.
Since the edX launch, HarvardX and MITx have between them run 290 MOOCs. Topics include biology, business, chemistry, computer science, economics, finance, electronics, engineering, food and nutrition, history, law, literature, maths & statistics, medicine, music, philosophy and physics.
By far the most popular subject area is Computer Science (CS), which has an average of 21,040 participants per course. Then comes Government, Health and Social Sciences (GHSS) with 10,213 participants per course. The third largest area is Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), with 7,905 participants per course. Finally, Humanities, History, Religion, Design and Education (HHRDE) has an average of 4,606 participants per course.
HarvardX and MITx four year review
In a review* of the first four years of open online courses at HarvardX and MITx, researchers from MIT and Harvard calculated that a typical course will have around 7,900 participants who will access at least some of the course content. About 1,500 of the participants will explore over half the content, while roughly 500 participants will complete the coursework/exams and receive a certificate.
For an average class, the make-up of the students will be:
- 33% female, 67% male
- 71% from outside the United States
- 7% of students will be aged 19 or under; 45% in their 20s; 22% in their 30s
- 26% will be teachers or instructors
- 76% will hold bachelor’s degrees.
The system caters for three broad groups of learners:
- those learning for interest or pleasure who wish to explore some or most of the free online content but do not intend to work towards a certificate
- those who intend to gain a certificate to help them with their studies or with their career
- teachers or instructors who wish to explore new developments in a topic they already teach, or who wish to learn about a new topic.
UK students in Years 11 and 12 may wish to explore the free content in one or two courses that interest them, to give them an idea what American style university courses are like. Year 13 students who have already gained entry to a US college may want to take a MOOC to give them a head start in a topic they want to study when they arrive on campus.
Advantages and disadvantages of MOOCs
In her blog The Advantages and Disadvantages of MOOCs for Learning (Infoprolearning 12 April 2017), Manisha Srikanth suggests the following:
Advantages of MOOCs:
- Courses are offered for free.
- Access to courses offered by professors at the top schools.
- Courses are available to a vast and diverse audience across the globe.
- Learners’ performance can be monitored easily using the data captured during the start of courses.
- Both professors and learners get world-wide exposure, thus improving pedagogical techniques and knowledge sharing.
- Can be used as a tool in a blended learning program, where students can access more information than what is provided in the class.
Disadvantages of MOOCs:
- Can’t provide for personalised courseware and attention from a tutor.
- It is difficult to keep track of students’ assignments and involvement.
- Learners with a poor Internet connection can’t use MOOCs.
- Language can be a barrier.
- MOOCs can’t be used as a credit-earning course at universities.
Tips for taking online classes
edX provides these five tips to ‘help set you up for success when taking an online course’:
- Have a clear motivation in mind – identify why you are taking the online class. The first step to success is to start by identifying the reasons for taking the course. Think about what you are looking to accomplish and what a successful result would be – whether it’s learning a new skill, advancing your career or enjoying the experience of learning something new.
- Set small, manageable goals. Set small goals throughout the course so there’s always something to work towards. By breaking a large project down into smaller, more manageable pieces of work, it often becomes easier to complete each piece and then move on to the next.
- Sign up with a friend. A useful motivational tool is to sign up for an online course with a friend to help hold you accountable and to stay committed. Not only can you encourage each other to stay focused and finish the course together, you can also act as a helpful resource to each other when studying or discussing course content.
- Take your learning on the go. At edX, we encourage our learners to learn anytime and anywhere. Even though the course content lives entirely online, it can be helpful to complete coursework in a variety of locations. Moving from place to place reduces your chances of feeling bored and can help keep you feeling energized. A change of scenery from your home or the library to a coffee shop or a park can make a big difference to your motivation levels and help to keep you on track to successfully complete the online course.
- Have some skin in the game. Share your journey taking online courses with family and friends – either in person or on social media. By involving them in your endeavour, you’re more likely to feel motivated to make progress so you can share updates and answer their questions about learning online.
Where to begin?
A great place to start is the DemoX course on edX. During the demo you will spend about 60 minutes exploring how online courses work on edX. You will learn how to:
- navigate the edX platform
- connect with other edX learners in a course
- answer problems on the edX platform
- how grades work in edX courses
- complete your first course
Click here to access DemoX.
* Isaac Chuang and Andrew Dean Ho (December 2016) HarvardX and MITx: Four Years of Open Online Courses — Fall 2012 – Summer 2016 Available at SSRN: