edX’s source code could be used for much smaller courses.

Massive open online course (MOOC) provider edX has released its software with an open source license, the nonprofit announced June 5. The move would allow anyone in the “the global development community to both use and help build a next-generation learning platform,” edX said in the announcement.

While the decision aligns with edX’s goal of making education available to the masses, the announcement could result in MOOC software being used to develop MOOCs that cater to a considerably smaller audience, like a college class offered only to students at a specific university or the training course already developed by the company 10gen for its open source database MongoDB.

In other words, a MOOC without the “M.”

And that’s kind of the idea, said Rob Rubin, edX’s vice president of engineering. “We want to encourage that,” he said. “We are committed to improving accessibility and we think that’s a great application.”

These scaled down versions of MOOCs are called small private online courses, or SPOCs. The term was coined by Armando Fox, a professor in residence at the University of California at Berkeley’s Computer Science Division. Anant Agarwal, edX’s president and a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), used the term to describe some courses created at Stanford when the university began working with edX earlier this spring in preparation of the full release of the open source software.

See Page 2 for how edX was able to release the source code ahead of schedule. 

The University of California at Berkeley, the University of Queensland and the Concord Consortium also first contributed to edX. Stanford contributed code for real-time chat and bulk email, Berkeley contributed software for forums and automated grading and Queensland contributed a discussion tool that will be piloted in July.

These early partnerships resulted in the the source code being freely available to the public several months earlier than originally planned.

“There was a moment where everybody looked at our code and said ‘we think you’re doing it the right way and we want to help you,’” Rubin said. “And they convinced us to let them them help us.”

After figuring out some security issues, edX  had prepared the code for full release in just six weeks.

From finding new ways to grade assignments to helping internationalize the courses, edX’s code is now out there for anyone who thinks they can contribute to improving the platform and its functions, said James Tauber, the platform’s open source community manager.

“We’re doing this to make the platform better and we’re really keen to get people contributing,” Tauber said. “It’s about improving accessibility to education.”


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