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First UTx classes added; Stanford joins work on edX open-source system

Open-source

EdX will release the source code of its entire platform on June 1. The source code will contain four parts, according to an edX press release: its Learning Management System; Studio, a course authoring tool; xBlock, an API for integrating third-party learning objects; and machine grading APIs.

EdX will work with Stanford and its other partners on the system, integrating key features from Stanford’s existing open-source Class2Go system. The latter is in “maintenance mode,” according to its website, and will not “get much development attention,” according to its engineering director Sef Kloninger.

Stanford will not be joining the edX consortium, though. “We are not an ‘x’ organization,” said Kloninger, who works at Stanford’s Office of the Vice Provost for Online Learning; Stanford’s classes will be available at online.stanford.edu.

Machine grading

The machine grading APIs have been the latest attention draw to edX, which recently rolled out its Automated Essay Scoring system that uses machine learning to grade essays. The system has garnered criticism, some from within MIT.

“My first and only objection is that they did not have any valid statistical test comparing the software directly to human graders,” said MIT professor and longtime critic of automated essay grading systems Les Perelman to the New York Times. However, the system will allow writing-based assignments to be scalable to more people. With growing classes, it is impossible for most teachers to give meaningful feedback on writing assignments, said University of Akron in Ohio professor Mark D. Shermis to the New York Times: “Often [critics] come from very prestigious institutions where, in fact, they do a much better job of providing feedback than a machine ever could. There seems to be a lack of appreciation of what is actually going on in the real world.

Four UT Austin classes added

The University of Texas at Austin has joined the edX consortium as “UTx,” offering four classes in the spring: “Ideas of the 20th Century,” “Energy 101,” “Age of Globalization,” and “The Impact of Drug Development,” with five more coming later in the year. Nearly 15,000 students have registered for the classes, with Energy 101 leading with 5,000 registrations. “This is absolutely a watershed moment in higher education and I am so proud that the UT system is playing such a large role in it,” said Francisco Cigarroa, chancellor of the UT system, which announced its collaboration with edX in October 2012.

—Bruno B. F. Faviero