Breaking the Boundaries at Harvard University

“Trevor Brandt-Sarif had no interest in computer science when he arrived at Harvard in 2011. Philosophy was his thing. Writing code? That was for those kids at MIT.” Boston Globe 2013

When a class at one of the most prestigious universities in the world gets too crowded, what’s the solution? Harvard University is finding a way to offer the course online while maintaining academic integrity true to the university’s name. The nature of the course, and the online availability, illustrate a changing academic environment.

Harvard is traditionally a place of classical education, where students are more likely to take a class in philosophy than a technical computer course. Today’s educational environment is forcing this classical approach to evolve. A technological background is increasingly vital for myriad fields from finance to medicine. As a result, one of Harvard’s most popular classes today is CS50. This computer science is course is hugely in demand; Harvard currently employs over 100 people to staff the course, and students cram into the campus’s massive theater for lectures.

In fact, the physical class itself is no longer enough to accommodate the needs of students. The nearly 700 enrolled students are really just a small fraction of the potential market for this offering. As a result, Harvard is introducing an online version of the course, making it accessible to both students on campus and people around the world. As computer science mastery becomes essential for a wide range of fields, this course is sure to be a huge draw. As Harvard seeks to become a technological powerhouse on par with nearby MIT, the ability to offer a relevant, essential course such as CS50 around the world gives the university a competitive edge.

CS50 isn’t Harvard’s only online offering. The university has a large catalog of courses available either exclusively online or both online and on campus. Harvard’s inclusion of online courses is likely indicative of greater changes to come. Online courses are becoming increasingly popular. As educational institutes explore remote proctoring solutions to ensure academic integrity, these courses are able to become a recognizable and respected form of learning. With more and more nontraditional students seeking degrees, online courses like Harvard’s CS50 are likely to become more prevalent at even the most prestigious institutions.

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