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EdX Hosts First Open edX Conference

By Meg P. Bernhard and Michael V. Rothberg, Crimson Staff Writers

EdX held its inaugural Open edX conference on Tuesday and Wednesday to bring together nearly 200 of the platform’s collaborators, who hail from as nearby as Cambridge to as far away as Japan. The conference comes a year and a half after edX launched the open-source initiative, which allows third-party groups to install, use, and develop the edX platform for their own educational purposes.

The conference, held in Radcliffe Yard, featured keynote speakers and breakout sessions intended to gauge the state of Open edX and encourage the sharing of ideas between platform users.

“We open-sourced our platform in June of 2013 and since then we’ve seen a lot of adoption,” said Sarina Canelake, a software engineer for the company. “What’s cool about this conference is that we’ve seen a lot of people, from France and from Japan, who we’ve never had a chance to meet, and put them in the same room, put a face to a name.”

According to Canelake, more than 400 courses are offered through Open edX worldwide. Contributors to the platform include Google, the University of Queensland, and Tsinghua University in Beijing.

In various breakout presentation sessions, attendees discussed hosting and adopting the platform, research, and pedagogy. Chief Technical Officer at Harvard James H. Waldo spoke at the “APIs and Integrations” track.

The sessions ranged from topics as technical as software architecture to the pedagogical theory of edX. They were taught by representatives from universities and software companies.

Vice Provost for Advances in Learning Peter K. Bol opened the conference Tuesday with a speech about the past trajectory and future projections of the edX platform.

“We don’t think of what edX is going to become or the roadmap, we see just what capabilities are at that moment incorporated,” Bol said, who spoke about the platform’s future in broad terms. “We tend to think, as faculty, that things are frozen in time, and one of the challenges that I think we have is to get people to envision that what edX is today and what edX will be a year from now are very different.”

When the platform first offered HarvardX courses in Oct. 2012, more than 100,000 students registered. Today, that number is more than one million, and nearly four million students are registered on edX.

Looking toward the future, Canelake said that edX hopes to make its platform more accessible.

“We’re really interested in adding new features, new courses that expand our reach across the globe,” said Canelake, adding that the Open edX platform helps achieve that goal.

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