Free online AP classes offered to all students through nonprofit website

Simone Wolberg

High school students can take advantage of 40 free online Advanced Placement courses on the edX website, a non-profit educational service, as of early November.

The website currently offers Advanced Placement (AP) courses in U.S. History, Biology, Physics and Environmental Science. Other AP courses such as Language and Composition, Chemistry, and Spanish Language will be available in 2015.

These classes, known as massive online open courses (MOOCs), are taught by instructors from highly-ranked institutions including Georgetown, MIT, Boston University, and Rice University. Anyone can sign up with edX, and once registered, can take an unlimited number of classes.

Some courses such as AP Physics and AP Chemistry must be completed at a certain pace while others such as Environmental Science have no time limit.

MOOCs were first introduced in 2011 and largely focused on computer science. Now there are at least 10 million people enrolled in MOOCs around the world in a wide variety of academic subjects. In addition to edX, other educational services, such as Coursera and Udacity, provide MOOCs.

“We have 3 million learners and about 155,000 of them are high school students who are taking AP courses,” said Nancy Moss, director of communications at edX.

Moss said their new AP courses will also improve in-class curriculum.

“A lot of these courses are designed for teachers to use in the classroom as well,” Moss said.  “Courses include interactive game-like exercises as well as lectures a teacher could use during class or give as homework to take notes on.”

Statistics by the College Board show that the number of U.S. public school students taking AP courses nearly doubled over the last decade, but about 40 percent of public U.S. high schools do not offer any AP courses.

Moss said MOOCs can most effectively reach students who do not have AP courses available at their school. The number of MOOCs has grown from 100 in 2012 to about 1,200 in 2013, according to edSurge, an independent data-gathering resource.

This growth in MOOCs is due, in part, to their relatively low cost, edSurge wrote on their website. All of the edX AP courses are free, except for the AP exam. Students who want a College Board-verified certificate of achievement for the course will have to pay an exam fee of $89 and take the AP exam at a testing site approved by the College Board.

The pass rate for these online courses can reach 40 percent across various services.  The edX pass rate, however, falls between 10 and 20 percent when 100,000 students or fewer are enrolled, according to data by Katy Jordan, a PhD researcher of online academic networks.

Along with these new AP high school courses, edX offers more than 300 upper division courses for college credit, ranging from Aeronautical Engineering and Exoplanets to Chinese Literature.