Edcast.com, an Open edX hosting provider created by the serial enterpreneur Karl Mehta, has raised $6 million in funding. This is the largest private fundraising that has happened in the Open edX universe (beyond the MIT and Harvard investment of $60 million).
Edcast built its first project this month with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Solutions Network, linking more than 200 institutions worldwide.
SoftBank Capital lead the financing round with participation from other investors that included Menlo Ventures, Novel TMT Ventures, Mitch Kapor (Kapor Capital), Cerving Ventures, Aarin Capital, NewSchools Venture Fund/CoLab and the Stanford StartX Fund.
This is the second time SoftBank has backed one of Mehta’s startups, who previously founded and sold PlaySpan, a virtual currency system manager acquired by Visa Corp in a $240 million deal.
The second edition of our guide to Open edX was released this week. Most of the sections have been updated with new information.
In addition, we have launched an HTML version, which is far more convenient than the PDF edition when it comes to following URLs to key pages.
No registration or password access is required for either of the formats. The work, written by Michael Amigot, is self-funded and released under the least restrictive Creative Commons license.
This free eBook –the first guide related to this technology– explores the most engaging and innovative learning and teaching platform in the world.
“It is useful for someone trying to get up-to-speed on the Open edX ecosystem”, according to Piotr Mitros, Chief Scientist at edX.
“The eBook itself is a quick read, and looks like a good overview of Open edX. Part 1 is an index of major Open edX adopters. Then there are pointers to key points of documentation (e.g. demo courses demonstrating Open edX functionality). Next, there’s a high level overview of what the components of Open edX are, and what the extension points are. Finally, there are pointers to the major resources about Open edX,” described Mr. Mitros on Google’s Open edX discussion board.
The newest version of the edX platform, released on September 18th, includes a very useful feature, although it might go in the opposite direction of the open education trend: it hides YouTube and non-YouTube videos’ URLs. However, the author of the course can allow students to download them.
CUSTOM SINGLE SIGN-ON
Another important announcement came from Google Education, who added the ability to use over 60 external third-party authentication systems on the Open edX platform, with support for everything from open standards like OpenID or OAuth 2.0, to custom single sign-on systems. The authentication module is extensible and its features are completely configurable.
NEW DEMO COURSE
On the other hand, there is a new version of the edX demo course, which is interesting for new students and course designers.
The Open edX code works under AGPL, a type of license that prominent open-source advocates like Scott Wilson, Service Manager at OSS Watch, or Dr. Charles R. Severance have loudly criticized.
“With a large system like Open edX, one license doesn’t fit all purposes, which is why we’ve decided to relicense one part, our XBlock API, under Apache 2.0.,” has announced Ned Batchelder, edX Software Architect.
With this mixed licensing strategy, the goal of edX is to encourage developers to code new XBlocks –that is, interactive components to be used as an extension of courses– and get a massive adoption. Ultimately, the aim is to convert XBlock in the standard extension module beating the LTI technology –mostly used in other LMS such as Canvas, Moodle, Desire2Learn, Sakai and Blackboard.
“The Apache 2.0 license is permissive: it lets adopters and extenders do what they want with their changes. They can release them under a copyleft license like AGPL, or a permissive license like Apache, or even keep them closed-source,” explains Mr. Batchelder.
Online students can earn digital badges for completing their course. But what about issuing badges to check student progress and cumulative skills learned? How can you verify and manage individual identities? Wouldn’t it be smart to keep the material open as evidence of student’s outcome?
The challenges are being discussed between Indiana University (IU), George Washington University, edX and IBL Studios. All parties share a firm commitment to open education.
This collaborative effort to build and issue digital badges is based upon the findings at the Design Principles Documentation Project and is being undertaken by the Open Badges in Open edX and Beyond initiative. IU’s Center for Research on Learning and Technology will provide a twofold mode of support for digital badges to Dr. Lorena Barba’s MOOC: technology (facilitating coding in Open edX) and pedagogy (purposeful implementation, evidence, and assessment).
The team has set the goal of issuing digital badges by mid-November to students who complete built-in assessments with proficiency across the Open edX platform.
Indiana University’s scientists, Daniel Hickey and James Willis, describe the project in this blog post.
This initiative is huge: 26 new, free MOOCs developed by top universities for high schoolers in the U.S. and all around the world, to be launched through the edx.org educational portal within a few months. Subjects range from Computer Science, Mathematics and Chemistry to History and English. Currently, 22 high school courses are open for registration.
“We know that nearly 150,000 edX learners are high school students, and developing high quality, engaging, and interactive courses to specifically meet the needs of this student population is a high priority for us at edX,” explains edX’s president, Anant Agarwal. In addition, these courses will meet the needs of students interested in entry-level course materials – 90 percent of edX learners according to this organization.
To identify the best courses, edX issued a request for course proposals offering seed funding of up to $50,000 per course for support services. They received 75 proposals from 22 institutions before selecting 26 courses from 14 leading institutions. Laura and John Arnold Foundation, Wertheimer Fund, Fariborz Maseeh / The Massiah Foundation granted funds for the content creation, while edX committed to provide training services, including pedagogy’s best practices, media consultation and video transcriptions. [Disclosure: IBL Studios is providing the film services of two of those MOOCs].
Participating academic institutions are:
- Boston University
- Georgetown University
- Rice University
- TU Delft
- UC Berkeley
- Universidad Carlos III de Madrid
- UT Arlington
- UT Austin
- Wellesley College
- Davidson College
- Cooper Union
- School Yourself
- St. Margaret’s Episcopal School
- Tennessee Board of Regents
- Weston Public High School
The last five are non-edX members.
Currently, 22 high school courses are open for registration at edx.org.
George Washington University’s first MOOC titled “Practical Numerical Methods with Pyton” has attracted nearly 3,000 participants in two weeks since the launching without any PR support or marketing campaign.
This course, developed in collaboration with several universities internationally, is being run on an Open edX platform.
George Washington is the only other U.S. university apart from Stanford with a serious Open edX deployment outside the edX Consortium.
This enrollment growth and the technical deployment has captured the attention of all the main players in the field, from Stanford University to the edX Consortium.
Discussion forums are central to massive online courses’ learning experience. It is where community interaction happens and students speak with professors or one another. However, if not built properly, forums can be frustrating when you try to find something or have a functional conversation. Humanities-related boards face more challenges than scientific ones wherein students look for sets of right answers.
Considering all of this, edX has added some nice features to their discussion forums. We tried the last version of the Open edX platform at GW Online and we cannot be more pleased –although we found some minor bugs that we reported.
Main changes in the new forums are made to differentiate between “questions” that are meant to be answered authoritatively –requiring the right answers– and “discussions” which are meant to be pursued discursively.
EdX has just released a new version of its platform that allows students to sign into the edx.org educational portal with their existing Google or Facebook accounts. In addition, edX has decided to highlight the importance of LTI cloud-based apps by including a more stylish way in the LMS (or users’ view interface) to show external components. See what it looks like:
Sef Kloninger, one of the leading engineers of the Stanford Open edX initiative, has left this organization to join a start-up called Wavefront. “I’ve heard the siren’s song of the startup”, is the only explanation he provided regarding his departure from Stanford University –although he will continue as a member of the EdX Technical Advisory Board.
What does it mean for the edX community?
Mr. Kloninger, a gifted developer and technology visionary, built the Class2Go platform and contributed many features in the edX code (i.e. theming, course email and instructor analytics, etc) along with an engineering team from Stanford. One of his main achievements was to convince key people in Stanford University and MIT and Harvard in Boston to make the edX platform open source software. So, in a way, he is one of the fathers of Open edX.
He reflects on his website: “I’ve spent a lot of my own time helping to make sure the Open edX project a healthy open source project. It’s not enough to just open up the code, to have a thriving community you have to conduct your development out in the open. Beyond helping other institutions get up and running I’ve worked to drive the open-source agenda overall.”
The edX universe is moving fast and new people with different views and agendas are emerging. The first Open edX conference, taking place this November 19 in Boston, will be an opportunity to picture the future.