August 30, 2014

A MOOC platform open to all?

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Empson, R. (2013) edX Merges With Stanford’s Class2Go To Build An Open-Source Online Learning Platform Tech Crunch, April 3

Empson, R. (2012) Class2Go: Stanford’s New Open-Source Platform For Online Education Tech Crunch, September 17

Markoff, J. (2013) Essay-Grading Software Offers Professors a Break New York Times, April 4

Stanford engineers have developed an open source MOOC platform called Course2Go that is different from the proprietary platforms developed and used by Coursera and Udemy.

What makes it different is

its early dedication to building and maintaining a totally open-source platform. This means that the platform aims to be both free of cost and of pricey IP, while professors are free to contribute to Class2Go’s code and get involved in the development of the platform, as well as to collaborate with other institutions and organizations.

Rather than build its own platform, edX has decided to make use of Course2Go.

Although not stated in those terms, Class2Go will no longer be focused on building its own, independent platform, and instead its team will devote all of its attention to helping edX go open-source. In other words, Stanford will be integrating all of the features of its existing Class2Go platform into the edX platform, using Class2Go’s infrastructure as an internal platform for online coursework for on-campus and distance learners.

As of June 1, the company said, developers everywhere will be able to freely access the source code of the edX learning platform, including code for its Learning Management System (LMS); Studio, a course authoring tool; xBlock, an application programming interface (API) for integrating third-party learning objects; and machine grading API’s. In addition, edX will look to encourage participation from third-party developers by providing technical and process guidelines as well as additional support.

At the same time, edX has announced that it has developed a tool for automatically grading essay-type answers based on the use of artificial intelligence.

The EdX assessment tool requires human teachers, or graders, to first grade 100 essays or essay questions. The system then uses a variety of machine-learning techniques to train itself to be able to grade any number of essays or answers automatically and almost instantaneously.

The software will assign a grade depending on the scoring system created by the teacher, whether it is a letter grade or numerical rank. It will also provide general feedback, like telling a student whether an answer was on topic or not.

The New York Times article also presents some of the standard criticisms to automated essay marking, which to date has serious issues regarding validity, i.e. nonsense answers that use the right words get highly graded, while valid answers that use non-standard wording are failed or marked lowly.

Comment

The development of an open source MOOC platform seems to me to not only make a lot of sense technologically (how many different MOOC platforms do we need?), but more importantly allows any institution to offer its own MOOC without having to go through commercial operators such as Coursera. This will substantially bring down the cost of participating in MOOCs for most institutions (see a later post coming shortly). However, more consideration needs to be given to less objectivist or behaviourist approaches to teaching when developing these tools. For instance, it would be good to see Course2Go developing software (and the accompanying human approaches) to manage discussion groups on a large scale.

The bigger question is when will these Ivy League engineers start talking to educators about pedagogy, educational validity, and the nature of learning? I have no objection in principle about researching and developing teaching approaches that will work on a very large scale, so long as they adequately deal with the essentials of teaching and learning, and not just build what is relatively easy to develop in engineering terms.

This is what makes the current focus within x-MOOCs so infuriating. There is clearly huge potential for some major breakthroughs in developing large-scale, low-cost education, but some recognition that this needs to be a team effort that requires educational as well as engineering input on an equal basis is absolutely essential, otherwise it can end up being an extremely dangerous and destructive development, given the weight given to Ivy League developments in the mainstream media.

Comments

  1. Eva P. Gil-Rodríguez says:

    You’re great Toni! That’s exactly the point. Great news anyway. Thanks for sharing your thoughts

  2. Hi Tony Bates
    I am glad that you started commenting positively regarding MOOCs .
    Now I am more skeptical about MOOCs . I say there are good MOOCs and bad ones too .
    Here you say almost the same thing.
    yes developers must be more careful on the teaching aspects of the programs . That means they should consult you and like you people a lot . Please help MOOCs in that regards . Experience counts.

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