Reflections on the OpenClass design partner meeting Part 2: Features


A screen shot from the LMS OpenClass
I mentioned in a previous post that there are a couple of key features that make OpenClass a potentially disruptive learning platform. One is the social element built into

the platform. The simple ability to “follow” fellow students and faculty even after a class semester ends opens many new learning opportunities. Pearson gave a few new details about the social elements during the design partner meeting, including taking steps to integrate with Google+.

Examples of how to build on social

Pearson developersshowed off some nifty innovations created during a previously held two-day internal hackathon. While these innovations may or may not make it into the formal OpenClass product roadmap, a few were notable and showed the potential of platform: 1) An integration of Google+ Hangouts to create video office hours from within OpenClass (very slick) 2) a collaborative multiple-choice test-taking tool that requires students to work in teams to answer questions 3) a badge system that gives rewards for a variety of activities (e.g. % of people you have interacted with in the class).

The Exchange

The other major feature is still in the works and is currently called the Exchange. An over-simplified view is to think of the Exchange as an app store for learning content. As design partners, we got to see some Exchange wireframe mockups. Creating a one-stop-shop for learning content is far more complex than creating an app store for a monolithic software platform. The vision is that it will provide a simple interface across open source and paid repositories of content. As faculty build their courses using content from the Exchange, they will see a running tally of what students would have to pay (if they select any paid resources). Students will have options on whether to pay for content when they login (e.g. I own the paper text and do not want the digital one in the course).

Pearson knows that gaining and maintaining trust in the Exchange means that they must be egalitarian and transparent in how content is listed. This is a tricky line to walk because, unlike Apple and iTunes, they also own a content business. Faculty ratings of content and open discussion forums will help build trust but attempts to highlight content (like most other digital stores do) will be difficult to navigate while avoiding the appearance of bias. Other design-related challenges include how much information to include for each offering (peer-review status, device compatibility info, evaluation data, etc.), what types of media to include (e.g. video file formats, proprietary players/readers, Flash), and rights management.

Beyond the technical and design questions, there are also potential institutional challenges.  The long-term vision of the Exchange includes the ability to accept content submissions from any individual. Similar to the Apple App Store, each person can determine whether he or she will charge for the materials on a per student basis. I suspect this will bring many long-simmering questions about digital course ownership to the fore – especially the first time a faculty member creates a 99¢ math video that a giant community college system decides is a part of their core curriculum.

I think OpenClass is a bold product. In an area where innovation has been very slow and incremental, it offers a chance to rethink the LMS. The challenges are immense and there are no guarantees they can all be overcome. In these two brief posts, I did not touch on the possibilities of global scale and analytics, the host of open APIs, and the deep integration with Google (and soon other providers) but the social features and Exchange lead me to believe that investing time in a robust pilot is worth it to see where this goes.

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