Bridging and edX

By Gregor Kiczales posted on September 14th, 2014

The UBC Flexible Learning Strategy (current revision) lists bridging as one of three key opportunities “enabled by technology and changing societal expectations”. Briefly, the idea behind bridging is to look for ways to attract students we would like to enrol, by developing mechanisms that help inform them about UBC, prepare them for UBC, and ultimately support their success at UBC.

Our biggest bridging move to date is UBC Vantage College. This program is targeted at international students with strong academic skills but who do not yet have strong enough english language skills to succeed at UBC. In their first 11 months students complete a  program equivalent to the first year of BA or BSc. degree. They receive a tailored program of language instruction that is integrated with their coursework.

This week a number of edX schools announced courses that represent a significant bridging play on their parts. For the first time, these are edX  courses targeted at high-school students – a total of 32 courses in fact. The courses include 22 Advanced Placement (AP) courses in english writing, math, physics, stats, computer science, and french language and culture. There are also introductory courses in psychology, geometry, algebra, engineering and engineering math, and introduction to computing for non-traditional audiences course. The courses come from universities like MIT, UT Austin, Rice, BU, Delft and Berkeley; as well as Cooper Union, Tennessee Board of Regents and two high schools.  (The intro to computing course is by Dan Garcia, based on his CS10 course at Berkeley with Brian Harvey, and is likely going to be great.)

These courses offer their providers a chance to reach high-performing prospective students directly, without the clutter and noise introduced by the AP system or AP exams. The courses are AP prep courses, so they will prepare students for the AP exam and the normal university admissions system. But if a student in AP* Physics C: Mechanics does extremely well, then MIT doesn’t have to wait for the AP exam scores, or even the application to arrive to start recruiting that student. The same is true for Rice with AP* Physics 2, and BU with AP* Physics 1. The MOOC space has always been at least in part about recruiting, but what’s different here is a set of courses focused explicitly on students getting ready to apply to university.  Such a large scale offering – 32 courses launched at once – shows the importance edX partners place on this space. Judging from the way the AP* Physics courses are divided up it looks like there’s already been some negotiation over the space.

What does this mean for UBC? AP exam prep isn’t as big an issue for us as it is for US schools, so the fact that others have moved ahead of us is probably not a major loss for us. (These courses and this program came together before we joined edX, it was only announced afterwards.) But are there other pieces of the online high-school bridge that we should target? Is there some kind of online version of Vantage prep that UBC should offer? With an eye on our overall Asia gateway strategy, perhaps we should offer a more generic study in Canada course? Or is there some other important niche for us to fill? Let me know what you think, either by posting a comment or emailing me directly.


Gregor Kiczales is a Professor of Computer Science and Provost’s Fellow for Flexible Learning Strategy.

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