Using an Open Source Platform to Meet Online Learning Goals

Summary of a presentation from Amy Collier (Stanford) and Jane Manning (Stanford)

(Jane) If you haven’t seen it already, EdX has announced it will be releasing its entire platform on GPL on June 1, and Stanford announced it will be collaborating with them on this.

Let me tell you a story about David Glance. He wanted to host a MOOC at university of Western Australia. When he emailed Coursera to host a MOOC, he was rebuffed. And he wanted UWA to manage the look and feel of the platform, and to use it for other activities, which he couldn’t do with Coursera. And then he found out about Stanford’s Class2Go platform. He forked a copy from Github, discussed layout with the authors, and built a UWA site. Soon, he was contributing code. (This story is really condescending – SD).

(Amy) When you sign up with Coursera, you benefit from your courses being listed alongside the other courses. We think this effect will reduce over time as there are more courses and as sites like create listings. Coursera also has a community with discussion threads, webinars and documentation, and this week, its first user conference.

The problem for universities is that students taking courses on the platform feel an affinity for the platform, and maybe the professor, but not the university. Compare to the open source branding, where students are tweeting ‘thanks Stanford’, not the platform.

Also, with a commercial platform, students may receive email from the platform owner, that you have no control over. Also, you may encounter re-use terms you can’t live with. You’ll want to be aware of terms-of-use limitations on commercial platforms.

Yes, these statements are pretty oversimplified. There is a wide range of approaches – Coursera and Udacity are for-profit platforms, Moodlerooms is commercial offering an open platform, etc. Stanford has opted a complex multi-platform strategy, and that works for us, as it allows us to experiment with a variety of approaches.

Question: what’s the difference between an LMS and a MOOC platform?

Response: (Jane) there’s a ton of overlaps – but there are things in LMSs that MOOCs lack, like sign-up for discussion, sign-up for field-trips, etc. LMSs don’t have sort of support for videos and auto-grading that MOOC platforms do. We’ve seen requests from faculty for more LMS-like features.

Question: what would you say to institutions that are hesitant to locally host a MOOC platform?

Response (Jane): that’s why people use Coursera, they make it easy. I’d like to see an ecosystem of third-party providers that host open-source platforms. (Amy) The concerns around hosting your own platform have always been a concern. But you might run into them with a third party platform as well.

Question: Students are not in your database, like an LIMS. What about capacity? Etc.

Response: we’ve been advising people about things like, what size they should get if they’re setting up on Amazon. We want to help some, and hope others will help others.

It won’t be Class2Go any more –we’ll be merging with EdX.

Question: How will this merge of platforms work? Will there be just one entity?

Response; We’ll keep Class2Go for people who are currently using it, and we’ll figure out what to do with people – probably migrating over to EdX and maybe migrating some features over to EdX.

(A few responses to my question along the lines of no this is not at all like Blackboard acquiring WebCT).

Question: what lessons have Stanford and MIT learned from Sakai?

Response: It will be a small group that is making decisions, because Sakai there was a very long response time. What we don’t want is for it to be a big consortium where 25 institutions all have to agree on something.

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