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We recently welcomed the University of Notre Dame as our 35th Charter Member. NotreDameX will offer online courses on edX.org starting in spring 2015.

To learn more about NotreDameX, its upcoming online classes and how it is embracing technology to enhance the bond between teacher and learner, we spoke with Elliott Visconsi, the University’s Chief Academic Digital Officer.

You are an English and Law professor, with a focus on Shakespeare, early modern literature, and the First Amendment in the digital age. Tell us how you got involved in digital education.

It was unexpected! There were two entry points. First, one of my research areas is freedom of expression. Our public forum (in which we hope to foster the free exchange of ideas in the service of deliberative self-government and individual flourishing) is now almost entirely digitally mediated. That fact has profound implications for individual speech, political culture, access to information policy—and educational attainment.

Elliot VisconsiI happen to believe that access to information is a civil right, and also that we should lower the barriers to educational content worldwide. Second, I recognized that technology could be an especially powerful tool for teaching literature, especially Shakespeare, whose works can be daunting for new readers of all ages. So I developed an iPad application for teaching Shakespeare with my colleague Professor Katherine Rowe (incoming Provost at Smith College); our goal was to replicate the best aspects of what we do in the humanities classroom. A startup company (Luminary Digital Media) is the vehicle we identified to bring that experience to a global audience.

So I have both research and teaching interests in the area (and some startup experience). I’m honored that President Fr. John Jenkins and Provost Tom Burish asked me to join the Provost’s Office to lead Notre Dame’s digital strategy. Notre Dame’s new Office of Digital Learning will be the home of our strategic initiatives in digital education.

How does edX and increased access to education connect to Notre Dame’s mission?

We have shared philosophical goals; we embrace edX’s commitment to open education in the service of the global public good. EdX’s commitment to improving learning through transparent sharing of data, non-profit orientation, and investments in open-source software are powerful testimony of its mission. Notre Dame is motivated deeply by our mission of service to the global community, a mission rooted in the Catholic intellectual tradition. We see edX courses and other open educational resources as wonderful extensions of our work as a University, and not as competition.

Will Notre Dame use MOOCs in its on-campus learning as well? Are there plans for developing blended learning environments on campus?

Yes, we are eager to use the content, experience, and platforms we develop to support blended and hybrid learning on campus. I am especially excited about modules, intra-departmental team-taught series, and inter-disciplinary courses that we can use in a variety of instructional contexts on campus. As we’ve heard, the semester-length course is not necessarily the best modality for online instruction. I am sure we will have lots of faculty experimenting with these new tools to ‘blend’ or ‘flip’ their classes. Like other edX institutions, our commitment to the residential research university model is stronger than ever. We see edX as an important partner in helping us deliver an unsurpassed on-campus experience for students and faculty.

Notre Dame Campus at Sunset

Who at Notre Dame were major proponents for joining edX? Faculty, students?

Everyone was quite positive, including our senior leadership. The Faculty Digital Strategy Committee, which I chaired, voted unanimously to recommend edX as our partner for open online learning. I think our deans and faculty were impressed by the founding vision behind edX and the commitment shown by MIT, Harvard, and the other Charter Members. The faculty is especially interested in the open approach to both software and research data; such intellectual openness is the signature of a thriving academic community.

Can you give us a sneak peak into what kind of courses NotreDameX will offer?

Our curricular process is faculty-driven, so we have not yet identified our launch courses. I am confident, however, that our offerings will represent our mission and our commitment to enriching the public good through access to education. I am also confident that our alumni, parents, and friends will feel well served by our edX courses.

Thank you to Elliott for speaking to us. We are so pleased to welcome Notre Dame to edX.

By Rachel Lapal, edX Communications Manager