Peter HighBy Peter High. MIT Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Professor Anant Agarwal has personified the educator-entrepreneur, as he has had a foot in academe and a foot in new ventures for more than a decade. He has led CSAIL, MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, just as he was a founder of Tilera Corporation, which created the Tile multicore processor. He led the development of Raw, an early tiled multicore processor, Sparcle, an early multi-threaded microprocessor, and Alewife, a scalable multiprocessor. He also led the VirtualWires project at MIT and was the founder of Virtual Machine Works. His start-ups have largely been focused on his areas of research and areas of interest, but he had not focused on the education space itself until late 2011.
It was at that point that Agarwal taught what would become MITX’s first massive open online course (MOOC) on circuits and electronics, which drew 155,000 students from 162 countries. This overwhelming response showed the promise of having his academic and his entrepreneurial pursuits coincide. Agarwal developed a partnership between MIT and nearby Harvard to establish edX. Unlike rivals Coursera and Udacity, edX is a not-for-profit. Therefore, when Agarwal thinks about the competitive landscape among the MOOCs, his perspective is “the more the merrier.”  In fact, in June of last year, edX became open sourced, and the source code, OpenedX, has led to interesting collaborations with Google, Stanford University, and even with countries such as France and China.