This summer has been the time of the massively open online course. Anyone can sign up for this type of course given by one or two instructors. And large numbers of students can participate, usually at no cost.
In July, both the for-profit Coursera and the not-for-profit edX announced additional university members within a week of each other. University of California, Berkeley, joined the founding members of edX, MIT and Harvard.
And as the 2012-13 school year starts, a total of seven courses won't be the only things happening on the edX platform. In the near future, edX plans to make its platform open-source. This platform will allow instructors to offer courses to anyone either on the edX version of it or on their own modified version.
The three participating universities so far are already modifying the platform. University of California, Berkeley, students are working on assessment technology for certain computer science courses and building a new discussion forum. The platform is designed to include features such as discussion forums, instructor-created videos and assessments, among other things.
EdX has two major reasons for releasing the platform as open-source.
"Once it's open source, everybody around the world will be comfortable contributing to it," said Anant Agarwal, president of edX. "We don't believe for the moment that the edX team can do everything necessary to build a platform that is just absolutely right for learning. But there are a lot of people around the world who have technology they can bring to bear."
The first reason for going to open source is pretty simple: so others can use the platform to host and run courses that they want to create.
People could use their own versions of the platform for several reasons, Agarwal said. For example, if someone doesn't want to host a course on a platform hosted by edX, that person can offer a course on his or her own version of the platform.
In another case, a company might have requirements that the platform doesn't meet. To offer internal courses, the company could make improvements to the platform that do meet its requirements. Because it's open source, these improvements would then be made available to the public.
The other reason why edX plans to release the platform as open source is so that everyone can contribute to making it better. UC Berkeley students are currently working on assessment technology for certain types of computer science courses and are building a scalable forum for quick discussions.
"By making it open source, we now are able to leverage the efforts and open cooperation of people around the world to add to the platform, thereby allowing us to make it a very technologically advanced platform for learning very quickly," Agarwal said.