HarvardX online courses to include faculty seminars

Seeking to expand educational opportunities to Boston residents, the Harvard Allston Education Portal announced Monday plans to enhance an online coursework program with in-person faculty lectures and discussions.

Through the Ed Portal, which opened in June 2008, Harvard University has partnered with the Allston-Brighton community to increase access to educational resources for all residents of the neighborhood. The group has forged in-person interactive learning with the non-profit online course initiative HarvardX, founded by Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“It’s continuing our engagement with the Allston community,” said Mary-Helen Black, executive director of the Ed Portal. “[It] is a bidirectional engagement bringing the Allston community into Harvard [and] bringing Harvard into Allston. We like to think of it as a way to help prepare individuals for the knowledge economy.”

Registered members of Ed Portal can gain access to special events, such as mentoring programs and ticket offerings. As of March 31, 2,100 residents — or 750 households — have registered as members of the Ed Portal, a Harvard spokeswoman said.

Black said the mix of online courses with traditional lectures is a good transition for individuals who are not as technologically versed but are still interested in furthering their education.

“We want to help and support people get on the ramp with technology, [such as] having the opportunity to meet with teaching assistants, kind of like office hours for courses, [and] provide support in terms of how to access [their online classes],” she said.

Peter Bol, vice provost for advances in learning at Harvard, said was one of the first lecturers under the new initiative, and he said the experience was rewarding.

“My [lecture] was about a course called ChinaX, which is the history of China and its civilization,” he said. “[Afterward], we had half an hour of questions back and forth and people came up to say help and we chatted.”

Bol said Harvard strives to cultivate its relationship with the Allston-Brighton community by making education available to anyone interested.

“Harvard is committed to having a useful warm protective relationship with community in Allston,” he said. “This engagement is part of something we have to do and in this case, online courses are one of the important ways to make education and learning available to a broader public.”

Several residents said the addition of lectures to the already standing HarvardX curriculum will create a stronger relationship between the students and native residents of Boston.

Andrew Escoto, 27, of Brighton, said the initiative will allow people to branch out and learn about other fields they did not study in school.

“This is good to make connections and meet people from Allston and Brighton,” he said. “I would participate, depending on the courses available. I went to school for engineering, but I am a dancer and artist too.”

Shane Kirby, 29, of Brighton, said the educational program is something most residents like himself would support.

“Regardless of what’s going on between the neighborhood and Harvard, having this program can only strengthen their relationship,” he said. “I don’t know why anyone would think anything like this is not a good idea.”

Emma Hamilton, 22, Brighton, said the interaction between Harvard and Allston-Brighton will help bridge the gap between the academic and working classes.

“A lot of people think of Boston as a college town, but it’s a big metropolitan area with a blue collar population,” she said. “These are people who don’t always have access to education like people from out of the city who are attending universities like Harvard. People from Allston and Brighton don’t get over the river as much unless it’s for a specific purpose. It [the program] is a good thing in terms of interaction.”

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