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EdX Online Classroom Code Going Open Source, Uniting With Stanford

Unknown Lamer posted about a year ago | from the together-we-live dept.

Education 27

The edX project today announced that they are joining forces with Stanford and releasing the source to edX on June 1st. As part of the platform going Free, Stanford will be integrating features from their Open Source Class2Go project. From Stanford: "Mitchell said that Stanford's Class2Go platform development team has been in contact with the edX team for a number of months, and that much code is already synchronized so that the collaboration between the two platforms will be a smooth one. The advantage will then be 'a larger team building one strong open source platform, rather than two competing open source platforms, which we think will be more desirable for universities around the world,' Mitchell added."

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27 comments

1st (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43348177)

First post!

How open is all of this? (1)

waterbear (190559) | about a year ago | (#43348539)

One thing I noticed about edX, coursera, and a few others with similar aims, is that technically their websites seem very exclusive to the latest and snappiest version of any tool that might be used to try and view them.

I have frozen one browser, crashed another, trying to look at their contents without success yet.

Ok 'open' refers to the liberated character of the software, but how open is this at user-level? Did their designers never hear of backwards compatibility? Or do they just want to exclude access by anybody without the latest gizmos?

Re:How open is all of this? (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43348773)

Still using IE6?

Re:How open is all of this? (1)

chrism238 (657741) | about a year ago | (#43349319)

Or do they just want to exclude access by anybody without the latest gizmos?

Modern browsers, all free to download on a wide variety of platforms, are hardly "the latest gizmos".

Re:How open is all of this? (1)

waterbear (190559) | about a year ago | (#43349983)

Modern browsers, all free to download on a wide variety of platforms, are hardly "the latest gizmos".

Well if not the latest, then pretty recent.

The questions about them are not about their cost-freedom but about their functionality: memory leaks, aspects of their operation newly outside the control of the user, the fragmentation of the 'standards' with which they comply.

But the point is that educational course materials don't intrinsically require any of this specialism or exclusivity. There are plenty of sites for many analogous purposes which have a broad spectrum of toleration for browsers. Why not equally, and more widely accessibly, these educational sites too?

Re:How open is all of this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43350405)

because "backwards compat" wastes resources. if you're talking about ie i would ask why you expect web/web app developers to wait on a private, proprietary company that does everything it can to undermine and subvert them? You bought into that ecosytsem now enjoy the fruits of your labor. If you're talking about something besides ie then i guess you could fork the net. maybe geezernet 0.6?

Re:How open is all of this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43349351)

Keep up or get left behind. QQ. If the newest version still doesn't work, then start complaining.

Re:How open is all of this? (1)

RandomUsername99 (574692) | about a year ago | (#43349933)

"What do you mean this doesn't work with Lynx! Also, I specifically requested GOPHER support over 6 months ago. What the hell?"

Firstly, EdX is an open platform made collaboratively by MIT and Harvard. Coursera is a private company. They're vastly different.

Secondly, the technical and design hurdles that they are overcoming with these products are not trivial, and they are often made significantly less difficult with cutting edge features available to developers on newer browsers. It might not be the difference between something working, or not working... but it will probably be the difference between something working well, using browser-supported code, and some crappy, hackish workaround.

Thirdly, if your definition of "open" requires supporting curmudgeons that arbitrarily decided to stop updating their browser at some point, because it's what you did, and you decided that the world should adapt to you, rather than the other way around, then nobody else cares what your definition of "open" is.

Fourthly, developing for backwards compatibility can easily double your UI development costs if you have to go back to, say, IE6. Doing so makes sense if your target audience is some bureaucracy filled company that refuses to update, that is going to be paying you a boatload of money for your online training service... but if you're offering people free, high quality education... downloading a free browser REALLY isn't much to ask.

I'm sure they would LOVE to have every feature and design idea work with all previous browsers, but it costs a lot of money, effort, and quite possibly functionality that they could not get to work with older browsers, simply to satisfy people too inflexible to adapt, and the tiny portion of people that can't adapt.

Re:How open is all of this? (1)

waterbear (190559) | about a year ago | (#43350109)

. . . if your definition of "open" requires supporting curmudgeons that arbitrarily decided to stop updating their browser at some point, because it's what you did, . . .

It's not so very long since backwards compatibility was considered a good feature of software. Now, just mentioning the desirability of it seems to be a sure-fire way to collect some personal insults.
 

Re:How open is all of this? (1)

RandomUsername99 (574692) | about a year ago | (#43351793)

It's not so very long since backwards compatibility was considered a good feature of software. Now, just mentioning the desirability of it seems to be a sure-fire way to collect some personal insults.

Insulting? Possibly. Accurate? Undoubtedly.

referencing:

Did their designers never hear of backwards compatibility? Or do they just want to exclude access by anybody without the latest gizmos?

Obviously, the tone of my response, especially in the passage you cited, was not directed at your want for backwards compatibility, which, stated more civilly, would have gathered a more friendly response; it was targeted at your trollish questioning of the developers and designers competence, and motives. Since I'm a software developer at Harvard (I did not work on this project,) I believe my response was quite appropriate.

Re:How open is all of this? (1)

waterbear (190559) | about a year ago | (#43355877)

Since I'm a software developer at Harvard (I did not work on this project,) I believe my response was quite appropriate.

You obviously feel strongly about this, with 'curmudgeon', 'trollish', an exaggerated caricature of the view you disagreed with, and false placement of the caricature within quotes.

Educational websites such as those discussed here clearly mean to reach out to a wide audience. The intended users can be expected to come from a wide range of situations with a wide variety of resources from 'luxury' to 'struggling'. There can hardly be a clearer or more obvious case of need for site software to match users' potential needs: the obvious desideratum is for a broadly accessible robust site with no more complexity than necessary.

When it turns out that the site software on the contrary has narrow technical constraints limiting the breadth of its accessibility, it does squarely raise questions about the designers' competence or motives.

Unfortunately yours is not the only voice of scorn for those with limited resources. (And for those who would post reminders that much of the new software is cost-free, they need reminding in turn that to run it often requires high-spec hardware that is not.)

Re:How open is all of this? (1)

RandomUsername99 (574692) | about a year ago | (#43360285)

Their efforts do reach an incredibly broad audience. The number of people that *do* have access to computers, which *do* have internet access, but are *not* running at least Windows XP SP2 (the minimum requirement for recent versions of firefox), or Linux, which the most recent version of Damn Small Linux, by any known measure (OS Market Share stats), is incredibly small.

Damn small linux, requires a 486DX with 16MB of RAM. It is small enough to download with a dial-up connection.
The latest Firefox requires a P4, with 512MB RAM. Not exactly what I would call "High Spec" hardware.

So, who, *precisely*, are these people that have consistent internet access, regular access to computers, but are incapable of running any vaguely recent version of Linux, or WindowsXP?

These are the *actually* underserved groups of people, with this system:

-There are plenty of people who only have access to computers in libraries or shelters for limited amounts of time, who often do not have access for long enough, or consistently enough to take a class.
-There are people who live in remote areas who are well-off enough to have computers, who either don't have internet access, or have connectivity that is not consistent enough to guarantee a connection at any given time, as is required when participating in a class.
-There are many people don't have access to computers, at all.

The audience you claim to be fighting for, really, does not exist in any significant number. There *certainly are* struggling people that don't have access to this system, but the fact that some people have trouble with it when they try to use Firefox 3.6.x is not even a remotely significant contributor to the problem, and anybody making a stink about it is either really not thinking the problem through and just grumbling because it bothers them (a curmudgeon), or just trying to start trouble (a troll.)

Re:How open is all of this? (1)

waterbear (190559) | about a year ago | (#43377321)

The more specific and narrow you make your requirements, the more people you exclude.

anybody making a stink about it is either really not thinking the problem through and just grumbling because it bothers them (a curmudgeon), or just trying to start trouble (a troll.)

That attitude to an educational/outreach site and your repetition of name-calling speak for themselves.

Re: How open is all of this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43387875)

Because if you can't defend yourself against the argument, attack the style as a last defense. Troll points awarded.

Re:How open is all of this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43351687)

It's curious that hundreds of thousands of people have peeked at their courses and thousands are taking courses every quarter but seems that nobody is having such issues that you report.

Re:How open is all of this? (1)

blue trane (110704) | about a year ago | (#43354403)

Actually issues are brought up in the class forums. I've had a few problems with videos not playing.

Re:How open is all of this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43355435)

Actually these are not what the OP is complaining about.

Excellent news ... (2)

MacTO (1161105) | about a year ago | (#43348781)

I've tried a couple of edX courses, and they are far better than expensive online offerings from other universities. Not only is the technology better, but so is the depth of instruction. (Too many universities seem to believe that an online course is a page for news, another page to submit assignments, and a forum.)

Re:Excellent news ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43350681)

edX courses? I never realized there would be so much interest in an old Series 1 operating system. Go figure.

CLARIFICATION: STANFORD AND SON !! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43348925)

When you are in California, cheap is the new way for all things public !! Arnie ran them into the poor house !!

edX isn't ready for prime time (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43349133)

I'm using the edX system at SJSU for an electrical engineering class. I am amazed that this system cost millions to build, because it's broken in many, many ways. For example:

- Problems where you enter equations have no tips about which symbols are accepted and have no way to enter mathematical symbols (compare to MasteringPhysics which has this solved elegantly years ago) It takes a lot of blind guessing and checking to make the input formatted correctly because you have no idea what the system expects to see.

- Frequent typos and misspellings.

- Circuit simulator has unresponsive text boxes and the settings reset every single time you check an answer, which is frequently.

- Many links don't work and tech support is reluctant to fix anything. Some sections have had nearly every single tutorial link broken, and they still are broken months later.

- Many lectures fail to play back at speeds other than x1.0. Transcripts frequently have errors. Transcripts can't show mathematical symbols or subscripts/superscripts, which are used all the time for an EE course The YouTube based video player doesn't remember volume settings between videos (they are _loud_). Videos are at a low resolution even if you choose a higher one.

- Homework and labs sometimes and sometimes do not have positive confirmation of answers being submitted. Clearly they developed it one way, changed it later, and never went back to change the old forms. Very long multipart problems have a single check button so you have to go through and re-enter all your old correct answers along with the current problem you are working on.

- All discussion forms and collaborative options do not work. I've been told by the previous semester students that they never worked.

What I do see is a lot of effort on presentation. Scrolling lists, flashy UI graphics, etc. What they didn't put effort into was usability, making it load quickly on slow computers or machines with poor Internet access, etc. It looks great, it performs poorly.

The system has potential but it needs a LOT of work. Given the time and money put into edX, and how lackluster the results are, I don't see it maturing any time soon. I think the developers of it must have a complete disconnect with the students and instructors. It's very flashy, and that's about it.

As a student it's been nothing but trouble. In this day and age its surprising they'd roll out such a clearly beta product and expect people to use it.

Needs more design (3, Interesting)

Okian Warrior (537106) | about a year ago | (#43350553)

I've been into the online teaching thing since it went mainstream, almost 2 years ago now. I've taken courses from all of the big online players, and "tasted" several others.

In terms of functionality, they're all pretty good. Where they fall down miserably is in presentation design and logistics.

The edX presentation emphasizes soft colors, rounded corners, italic serif fonts, and such. At the same time, small areas of information are buried within blankets of surrounding style.

For an example, check out the ongoing 802.x discussion forum [edx.org] , and note how much blank screen space there is. In order to get this much blank space, the presentation reduces the list of topics to 10 and hides it behind a slider. The underlying slider data is 15 topics (more or less, depending on the subject length) with the option to "load more" at the bottom.

The overall feel is that you're reading a newspaper through a greeting card with holes cut in the front. Most of the text is hidden, you have to move the card around the page to get all the information. Pretty, but time consuming.

The logistics are a bit uneven, but to be fair most of the players are experimenting with this right now. For the 802.x course ("Electricity and Magnetism [edx.org] " by Walter Lewin) , hour[ish]-long lectures are broken into segments, with a quick quiz between each segment.

It's impossible to get really "into" the lecture as one would get "into" an interesting movie. You'll watch a segment and it's fascinating, you want to see what happens next - Prof. Lewin is a great lecturer - and suddenly you have to stop, break out a calculator, do some calculations, check it twice, do some research on the net, enter the answer and hope you didn't typo a digit or something (the quizzes form part of your grade). Now back to the lecture, pick up where it left off.

Switching gears back-and-forth like this makes it hard to keep track of what's going on in the lecture - sometimes you get less than 5 minutes of watching before you have to stop and calculate some result. The system won't let you go to the next lecture without answering the quiz, and you are scored on the first try. You can't preview the lectures to get an overview, and you can't download them for offline viewing (there are work-arounds though).

Maybe in a couple of years these aspects will be more polished and useful. Throwing the code out as open source will only help, because other players can try different approaches and perhaps better methods of presentation.

Re:Needs more design (1)

waterbear (190559) | about a year ago | (#43350705)

Pretty, but time consuming.

. . . and maybe those 'pretty' things also had to be coded with software features that stop those pages being read with a bunch of nearly-new browsers.

'KISS' is good.

Re:Needs more design (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43352815)

I've taken classes at EdX, Coursera, Venture-lab, and Udacity. I've completed classes on all the platforms, except EdX.

  • Coursera has a better flow for lectures, and has the most number of classes. It feels the most like a traditional class, but a lot better.
  • Venture-lab is team-project oriented. Most of the learning happens collaborating with others on resolving the project challenges (it works well for the Technology Enterpreneurship class, for instance).
  • Udacity is based on lectures interspread with many quizzes or programming (with a few exceptions). It works amazingly well for some classes, and not so well for others
  • EdX interface is too complicated and the flow is a bit disruptive compared to the others.

Re:Needs more design (1)

ABEND (15913) | about a year ago | (#43353337)

Those of us who are currently taking edX classes are beta testers and we are paying the beta price of $0.00 to learn from world class educators. I'm sure the STAFF there would appreciate any constructive criticism you can provide.

Myself, I'm a poor beta tester. I spend too much time being in awe of what edX is providing for free to provide much constructive criticism.

Re:Needs more design (1)

Okian Warrior (537106) | about a year ago | (#43354383)

Those of us who are currently taking edX classes are beta testers and we are paying the beta price of $0.00 to learn from world class educators. I'm sure the STAFF there would appreciate any constructive criticism you can provide.

Myself, I'm a poor beta tester. I spend too much time being in awe of what edX is providing for free to provide much constructive criticism.

I'm actually local to edX and have contacts within that group.

They are swamped with work and generally do not have the time to listen to suggestions for improvement. Furthermore, they have a difficult time believing someone who has experience outside their own expertise - it's sort of like a hobbyist gourmet cook trying to tell an engineer that the food could be better. They concentrate on what they know, and don't consider presentation skills important.

I've never really subscribed to the "you shouldn't complain, it's free" school of thought. You're saying no one should make an assessment of quality based on observations? There's lots of free software that's utter crap. Should we withhold rational analysis because free software gives us access to world-class coders?

Like a venture-financed startup, edX is running on a $60 million investment. They make a lot of decisions that "seem like a good idea", but I wonder if they are the right decisions. They are not spending their own money, and not forced to survive by selling a good product. Without a clear business model, there's a fair chance that they will run out of money and fold.

Contrast and compare with companies that start small and slowly build revenue by making more and better products and services.

Their attrition rate is over 90% for courses (I don't have complete statistics, but I think that's about right). I think that's way too many, and it reflects the poor attempts at translating to the online model.

Re:Needs more design (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43359835)

Seriously dude, these courses are hard and that's a good thing. If you want lowest common denominator courses go to community college. I took Circuits and Electronics and that was extremely challenging but I made it through, differential equations and all. Complaining about having to do calculations is just whining IMHO, and why they wouldn't have let you into MIT in the first place.

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