Monday, September 8, 2014

Collaboration with Lorena Barba's Python MOOC and Open edX

By James Willis and Daniel Hickey

In this post, we discuss a new collaboration between Dr. Lorena Barba and her team at George Washington University, Open edX, IU's Center for Research on Learning and Technology, and IBL Studios. This collaboration will implement digital badges in Dr. Barba's new MOOC, "Practical Numerical Methods with Python."

As part of our new MacArthur-funded project, we are happy to announce a new collaboration between Lorena Barba and her team, Ned Batchelder and others at Open edX, IU's Center for Research on Learning and Technology, and IBL Studios. This effort includes building in badging capability with Dr. Barba's recently-launched massive open online course (MOOC), "Practical Numerical Methods with Python," on the Open edX platform. The press release from George Washington University details the structure of the course and the shared teaching responsibilities from universities in Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, and Chile. Dr. Barba is an Associate Professor of Engineering at GW, and effort has been multiple departments. Starting this August, over 2,800 students enrolled in the course.

Lorena Barba

The collaborative effort to build-in and issue digital badges is based upon the findings of the Design Principles Documentation project and is a project undertaken in the Open Badges in Open edX and Beyond initiative. The CRLT will provide a twofold mode of support for digital badges to Dr. Barba's MOOC: technology (facilitating coding in Open edX) and pedagogy (purposeful implementation, evidence, and assessment). Initial challenges to issuing badges include assessing student progress in specific, cumulative skills learned, assuring individual identity verification and management, and keeping open materials within the evidence of outcomes.

Exploiting one of the most important features of open badges, this collaboration aims to advance the inclusion of actual course artifacts in the badges that students earn for completing modules and the course.  The GW team were intrigued by links to completed "wikifolios" in the badges issued in Indiana's Big Open Online Course within the Google Course Builder platform.  But, Dr. Barba quickly recognized the impossibility of viewing public pages in Open edX (because a log-in authentication is needed); however, she quickly suggested a work-around by linking work to student course work in GitHub because the pages are publicly viewable. As far as we know, this is the first time anyone has considered using links to student work in GitHub as evidence in digital badges. This is a promising start because it might link the open coding context of GitHub with open badges.

The collaborative team has set the goal of issuing digital badges by mid-November to students who complete built-in assessments with proficiency. In the long-term, our collaboration will build toward gradual, but wide-ranging, stand-alone implementation across the Open edX platform and beyond. With a firm commitment to open education, our collaboration ambitiously hopes to integrate digital badging across multiple platforms from a future case library of lessons learned. We will write about the successes and challenges so our efforts may be patterned by others in the near future.


  1. These are the collaborations that bring higher education to the next level. We look forward to reading about the progress.

  2. I participated in several programming Mooc classes that required programming submissions from Github. Unfortunately, there was widespread plagiarism by other students from current and previous instances of the course. Beyond identity authentication, will there be a way to address originality of work when issuing digital badges? Any thoughts of incorporating plagiarism detection capabilities along side digital badges?

  3. John--
    Great point. I have a lot of opinions and some experiences about this topic. In my own courses the work is so personalized that it is nearly impossible to plagiarize--when you do you get called out by other because it is so obvious. It is certainly different with programming because there is so clearly a "right way". I am looking forward to working with Lorena and her colleagues to see what our options are. Thanks. Stay tuned. Perhaps you might want to check out her course. It is quite well done IMO