How edX is Building Opportunities for Young Scholars

With our Young Scholars Program application underway, our outreach team frequently receives questions from high-achieving students and their families for tips on a stand-out application. We’ve partnered again with edX, the nonprofit online learning destination founded by Harvard and MIT, to offer seventh-grade applicants an option to earn special consideration by completing a college-level course through the Cooke edX Challenge.

We recently sat down with edX CEO and MIT Professor Anant Agarwal to learn more about the organization’s initiatives to make Advanced Placement (AP) prep and other courses more accessible to high school students. Anant also described how edX has designed modules that make coding more friendly to both young learners and their teachers.


In addition to bringing massive open online courses (MOOCs) to adult learners, your organization has delved into providing college credit for high school students. Is this an important shift in edX’s mission?

It was always something we intended to do. We started off at the college level and what we discovered when we were offering college courses was that two-thirds of the learners already had a bachelor’s degree. We found the significant reasons were that we did not have the right content, the more foundation content, the more high school content.

So we launched the high school initiative and as part of that, a number of high school courses and high school AP courses, including a course, Programming in Scratch, that can be taken by the young high schoolers. We have middle schoolers taking it as well — it’s a great first course for programming.

We also have many basic math courses at the seventh grade level, algebra, trigonometry, and then many AP prep courses. If you looked at the learners in the high school initiative, we have really moved the needle of who is taking the courses. We have increased the number of 13-17 year olds taking the courses by 400 percent through that initiative.

Through our outreach, the Cooke Foundation has found that many low-income high school students rely solely on their cell phones to do homework, and so they are a very different population from the degreed professionals that edX has been serving. Have you adapted your platform or taken on any steps to help these students access your MOOCs?

Yes. We have launched edX applications for both iPhone and Android phones. Our newest version of the iPhone and Android apps allow learners to watch all the videos and do the assessments on their phones. For many courses, you can take the course completely on a smartphone. We are very committed to mobile offerings.


How can high school students who take an online AP course through edX ensure that their work will be recognized for credit by the colleges and universities they hope to attend?

We launched the AP courses so that more students can take the AP exams. It is a well-established competency test and the College Board has already worked with more than 3,000 universities to accept credit for AP courses. Through edX, students can learn AP material even if it’s not being offered at their high school and sit for the AP exam if they want to. If they pass the AP exam, they can go and get credit at their schools.


So a student would sign up separately for the AP exam after they complete one of your courses?

Correct. They could complete one of our AP courses and then sign up for the AP exam offered by College Board. We have seen good success rates for learners who take an AP course at edX. In a survey we found that 90 percent of them made their score 3 or higher, so they can get credit at the U.S. schools that give AP credit.


In a piece you shared on LinkedIn, you wrote about New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s push to teach coding in all public schools. How would you recommend that an accelerated implementation of K-12 coding classes has a quality curriculum and instruction?

When you do things online, the beauty is that you get massive reach and massive scalability. What edX has brought to the table is our programming and coding content from some of the top universities and corporations in the world, like Microsoft. What we found is that we can offer quality courses to the large population very quickly. I felt when I wrote the blog that Mayor DeBlasio’s tenure horizon to do it was too long. Instead, we can do it in one to two years online. We already have a number of great coding classes for high schoolers. We have a number of AP courses that they can take and they can learn already.

We have also talked to some professors who create teacher professional development that trains teachers on how to mentor students while they’re talking the online courses. Davidson College for example has created a number of AP modules on edX and as part of each module, they also have a teacher professional development module to help teachers use that material in their classrooms.

There are two uses of online material; one is the learner can take the online course completely by themselves online. In the second module, a teacher can sign up his or her classroom to take the course and the teacher can work with the students to learn and help the students as they’re taking the course.


Interested in taking an edX online course? Take up the Cooke edX Challenge!

7th graders who complete one of five pre-selected courses will receive special consideration on their Young Scholars Program application.