Six Things You Missed…if You Missed the Open edX Conference

Open edX Conference (photo: Amrita Srivastava, SDM 2015)
November 4
Amrita Srivastava, SDM 2015, and Ammar El Seed, SDM 2015

The 2nd annual Open edX Conference showcased the edX platform and its complementary products and services. The conference focused on platform development, course authoring, and data analytics. Six key take-aways:

1.) Platform Innovation: edX CEO Anant Agarwal spoke of the unbundling of time and content whereby online education offers learners the flexibility to select their choice of courses and learn at their own pace. He also highlighted university programs, such as MIT’s MicroMasters in Supply Chain Management program, which awards credentials for courses taken purely online. Finally, he also gave an update on technical platform innovations, which include:

  • LTI (Learning Tools Interoperability) allows integration of Open edX instructional content into Canvas and Blackboard.
  • Use of OpenStack for flexibility in edX.
  • Development of XBlock components that can be integrated into courses.
  • The LORE repository to catalog and curate courses for easy reuse.

2.) Mitch Resnick, LEGO Papert Professor of Learning Research and head of the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab, emphasized the importance of the 4 Ps framework:

  1. Projects that enable students to collaborate, work on ideas, give and receive feedback, and organize their thinking.
  2. Peer learning opportunities where students create tutorials to enable mutual learning and build on each other’s ideas.
  3. Passion in learning: identifying and nurturing intrinsic motivation rather than external rewards.
  4. Play: bringing a playful and creative spirit to learning. 

Resnick also identified key components of a community of creative thinkers:

  • Project based learning
  • Live weekly conversations
  • Back channels for monitoring student behavior patterns
  • Small cohorts
  • Local study groups
  • Encouraging and enabling participant collaboration

3.) Open Web Standards: Jeff Jaffe CEO of the World-wide Web Consortium (W3C) discussed the adoption of Open Web Standards. Lack of awareness and structure for the W3DevCampus initiative were major reasons for its failure. Lessons learned were applied towards the success of their course Learn HTML5 from W3C on edX.

4.) Instructional Design: Julie Mullen of MIT Lincoln Labs and Worcester Polytechnic Institute stressed the importance of:

  • Analyzing pre-existing course material to extract the main concepts.
  • Identifying ways to ascertain if students learned the material, through open-ended questions or online discussion forums where students answer each others’ questions.
  • Mapping out key concepts in a knowledge graph visually to:
  • Identify gaps in the content
  • Determine the optimal way of ordering the content
  • Break down main concepts into manageable sub-concepts

Mullen recommended the following mapping tools: Tuft’s Visual Understanding Environment (VUE) and Cmap, as well as several instructional design frameworks including backward design (Understanding by Design) and the Addie model.

5.) Analytics: edX's analytics engine Insights informs instructors on how students are viewing and using video content. Additional community contributions to analytics:

  • ANALYZE, a tool that shows performance indicators of student data, developed by Universidad Carlos III de Madrid.
  • The ELK stack (Elasticsearch, Logstash and Kibana) delivers actionable insights in real-time from edX tracking log records.
  • MoocCzar, helps edX teams use data gathered for edX courses.

6.) Community: The platform is currently deployed in over 150 websites delivering over 1500 courses in 18 countries and 40 languages, ranging from courses tailored to autistic individuals and the rehabilitation of prison inmates, to military education and the training of doctors in Africa. This wide range of applications can be attributed to the platform’s ease of use, its open source software, and its ability to adapt to different geospatial and physical needs. Of additional impact is the initiative of a strong global community finding new ways to use the platform.

Videos from all conference presentations are now posted on the Open edX YouTube channel, including ODL Director of Engineering Ferdi Alimadhi speaking on LORE and SEI developper Cole Shaw presenting on semantic taggingHackathon presentations are also available to view online.