Online learning at Stanford goes open source with OpenEdX

MIT, Harvard study: what works in online learning?
June 13, 2013

(Credit: edX)

Stanford online coursework will be available starting this summer on a new open-source platform, OpenEdX, the university has announced.

In April, Stanford and edX, the nonprofit online learning enterprise founded by Harvard and MIT, announced they would collaborate on future development of the edX online platform. As part of that effort, edX has released the platform as open-source for developers around the world to use.

That open-source release means the platform is available for use by other universities and educational providers. Courses can be hosted internally by a university or externally using a third-party hosting service. Universities can control the licenses for their content and can release content in a variety of configurations to a variety of audiences without special permission from a platform owner.

Stanford also said it has contributed functionality back to OpenEdX such as real-time chat, bulk email, new installation scripts, operations tools and integration with external survey tools.

OpenEdX courses at Stanford will include Statistics in Medicine, How to Learn Math, and courses in electrical engineering.

More on EdX courses here. EdX consortium schools here.

MIT, Harvard analyze what works in online learning

In March 2012, MIT launched 6.002x, a free online version of MIT’s introductory course in circuits and electronics. The course, the first massive open online course (MOOC) offered by MITx sparked worldwide interest.

Almost 155,000 people in 194 countries registered for the course, generating more than 230 million interactions with the online platform, including 12,000 discussion threads and almost 100,000 individual posts — totaling 110 gigabytes.

Now MIT and Harvard researchers, with NSF support, say they are trying to make sense of this data, which includes students’ clickstreams (recordings of where and when users click on a page) and their homework, lab and exam scores, as well as comments made on discussion forums and responses to an end-of-course survey.

Within this data, researchers hope to find answers to some common questions about online learners, such as their demographics and how they use online resources. Data from 6.002x may also help to answer more complex questions: What factors encourage users to stick with an online course? What helps or hinders online learners’ achievement or performance?

David Pritchard, who heads MIT’s Research in Learning, Assessing and Tutoring Effectively (RELATE) group, says the incredibly detailed data gathered from 6.002x enables researchers to observe learning habits that might be difficult to discern in on-campus courses:

  • In completing homework assignments, users spent more time on video lectures more than any other resource. However, during an exam, students referred most to the online textbook, which they virtually ignored when doing homework. The data, although preliminary, illustrate how students may use different online strategies to solve homework versus exam problems.
  • While use of the discussion forum was not required in the course, the researchers found it to be the most popular resource for students completing homework assignments. In fact, 90 percent of the clickstream activity on the forum came from users who viewed existing threads without posting comments.
  • Students who reported working with another student on a problem offline tended to score almost three points higher than someone working alone.
  • Of the almost 155,000 who registered, only about 7,000 received certificates — a precipitous drop, at first glance, but it was because two-thirds of those who registered dropped off almost immediately, signing up only to never return. Those who stuck with the course through the second homework assignment, 40 percent went on to earn a certificate.