Monday, September 16, 2013

Google Course Builder Merges with Open edX: Implications for Our Big Open Online Course on Educational Assessment

This post considers some specific implications of the recently announced merger between Google's Course Builder platform and the Open edX platform.   These implications are specific to the Big Open Online Course on Educational Assessment that we kicked off on September 9, 2013 using Course Builder and with support from Google (and the blessings and oversight of Indiana University).  This post highlights the successful first week of the course and speculates about the future of several BOOC instructional innovations given this merger. This post is also intended to provide the 400+ students who registered for the Assessment BOOC with some explanation of the features they are now working with and some indication of how things are going.

On September 10, 2013 Google announced that its open source Course Builder would be folded into the Open edX platform.  This is a big development and was reported in the NY Times, Inside Higher Ed, and elsewhere.  As you may know edX was developed by MIT, Harvad, UC Berkeley and the University of Texas and offers open courses using a proprietary platform.  The Course Builder code, team, and experience promises to jump-start the open source Open edX platform at and make it possible for a much larger range of educators, schools, businesses, etc, build and host online courses.

We here at Remediating Assessment are very excited about this development.  We are now into the second week of teaching the Google-sponsored Big Open Online Course (BOOC) using Google Course Builder.  We started with over 400 registered students in a course called Educational Assessment: Practices, Principles, and Policies.  Drawing from situative theories of learning and connectivist visions of instruction, the course features personalized “wikifolio” assignments that every student can see and comment on. 

Getting Started with Course Builder
Educational Assessment BOOC Home Page
We used Course Builder 1.4.1, which ended up requiring a lot of programming to get our course up and running.  While our programmer Thomas Smith is quite skilled with Python, we still have a good number of little things that we are working out as we scale up online practices that were previously refined in smaller courses offered via Sakai and Google Sites

Jenn Phillips at Google informed us that if we port our current courses over to the new Course Builder 1.5.1 that most of our content would translate to the new platform at Apparently many course needs can be met with 1.5.1 just with html.  It seems likely that the new platform at will eventually be as easy for non-programmers like me to use as Google Sites.  That will be huge for open education.

Our New Wikifolio Interface
Our New Simpler Wikifolio Interface
One of the big questions we have right now concern the transferability of our wikifolio interface to X Block system used by Open edX.  BOOC team members Garrett Poortinga and Tara Kelly convinced me that the long multi-page assignment sheets that I had been using were too daunting for an open course.  They worked with Thomas to design a nice clean interface that starts with just the headings of the assignment elements.

Our New Wikifolio Edit Window 
Now you simply click on the heading to open and close the guidelines for that element. Then click the edit box in the upper right to open up the edit window to complete each part of the assignment

As we expected, some students appear to have been scared off by the amount of work required to create an interaction-worthy wikifolio.  But the interface is clearly working and most students have managed to get a draft of the first assignment up by the posted deadline.  So far so good!  At minimum, I hope we can readily translate this interface to Course Builder 1.5 and eventually to  The real dream is that we can turn this interface into an extension that allows anybody to create these kinds of assignments without requiring any programming or even html.

Ready.  Set.  Interact!
Now comes the really important part of the assignment.  All of the students have been assigned to 15-25 person peer networking groups according to their educational role, domain, and initial curricular aim.  Each student was asked to post at least one question to their classmates as a comment at the bottom of their wikifolio.  For the next three days, the students will discuss the disciplinary issues raised in each of the assignments in these comment threads.  The teaching assistants will help foster the conversation at scale and direct me to particularly noteworthy interactions; I will focus a lot of my attention on the tuition-paying students who are enrolled in the for-credit section.   

Many students have already begun interacting and so far it looks like it is working great.  As in the previous non-open courses, commenting directly on student-created artifacts is keeping the discussion anchored to the ideas in the corresponding chapter, as each student has taken them up relative to their own personal role and goals.  While it was easy to allow commenting on the wikifolios, it was substantial bit of programming to allow those comments to be threaded.  But Thomas managed it, and I hope that this feature will also translate to 1.5 and beyond and eventually be possible without any programming (like it currently is in Sakai and Google Sites)

Peer Endorsement
Our New Peer Endorsement Feature
Students are already engaging in another innovation in the BOOC.  In the prior classes, I assessed wikifolios according to whether three carefully-framed reflections were complete and coherent. But even that is too much work with hundreds of students.  In the BOOC you have to get at least one classmate to endorse your wikifolio as complete for it to count towards digital badges and a completion certificate (and a grade in the for-credit section).  Thomas gave us a clever interface whereby you simply click on the wikifolio to mark it as complete.  He even made it possible to distinguish between students who completed only the required elements and students who completed the optional elements as well. 

Once somebody endorses your wikifolio, it is indicated on your homepage.  So far every wiki that has been endorsed as complete has indeed been complete and the level indicated.  A cool feature that Thomas gave us is that each student’s home page lists recent endorsements.  This way, students can see who is interacting with them and reading their stuff, even if they are not leaving comments.

Peer Promotion
In a couple of days we will start to see whether one of the most interesting innovations is going to work at this scale.  After reviewing and discussing their classmates’ wikifolios, students are instructed to promote one (and only one) wikifolio as “exemplary.”  Unlike the endorsements, students are required to actually state what makes the wikifolio exemplary.

The student in each networking group that gets the most peer promotions for each of the three sections will get a digital badge indicating that they are an Assessment Leader for that section.  The badge can be shared out over social networks and the web and will contain detailed evidence of the awardee’s accomplishment (such as quotes from classmates).  In the previous course, we found that most (but not all) students were interested in and motivated by this process.  We also found that the act of endorsing contributes significantly to the amount and level of disciplinary engagement.  I am looking forward to seeing how the promotion goes in this class.

Next Up: Badges

We still have a couple of weeks before we issue digital badges.  In addition to the leader badges, we will issue Assessment Practices Expertise badges to all of the students who complete all four of the wikifolios and get 80% or better on the online assessment. We hope that will be a lot of badges.  We will let you know how it goes here.  In the meantime, Thomas is still working on the interface and we really hope that it all ports to CB 15 and beyond to  

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