The Good and the Bad: Choose the Best OPM, According to Dr. Chuck

Mikel Amigot, Zoe Mackay | IBL News

Dr. Charles Severance, Clinical Professor at the University of Michigan School of Information and world’s #1 Python teacher, spoke with IBL News about OPMs and UMs upcoming online MOOC-based degrees.

Online program management (OPM) companies are on the rise, but in Severance’s view, there are good OPMs and bad OPMs. “The best way to describe the difference between [them] is that good OPMs take less of your money than the bad OPMs. The bad OPMs like to take more than 50% of the revenue.”

edX and Coursera are good OPMs, says Severance, “in that they bring a lot to the table, the market, they do things globally that no school will ever be able to do. The University of Michigan could never have the global reach, no matter how many people we hired, that we get by being part of edX and Coursera.”

This he sees as a value, where edX and Coursera have changed the world positively, which is worth investing in further.

As one of the most successful MOOC universities today, the University of Michigan is starting MOOC-based degrees with their own unique approach. The Online Masters in Applied Data Science will launch in the fall of 2019. It encompasses 36 credits, where every class is 1 credit and 4 weeks long. “We are envisioning [full online degrees] very differently,” he says, “it is it’s own disruptive idea.

The idea of an online MOOC-style degree fills a gap. Individual MOOCs are wonderful, specializations and micromasters are wonderful, but online full degrees are a completely different thing. And the key difference is the pace.”

With actual online degrees, with online support, we can move you through material that after a year or two years, you are truly transformed and you truly know a lot of things you didn’t know before.”


The Future of UMs Online Degrees and How to Innovate

The Online Masters in Applied Data Science, coming in the fall of 2019, will be offered for the price of in-state tuition, regardless of where students live. Severance and his team would eventually like to lower that cost.

That’s one of the things I like about Georgia Tech, they actually reduced the cost to reflect some of the reduce costs to produce.”

The University of Michigan School of Information aims to expand rapidly but start small, says Severance, “I think it could easily get to 600 students per year,” from their current 100-150.

I’m seeing a pattern between how we’re doing this and how the open university does their teaching at scale and that is that they have a faculty that creates the content and then they have a smaller ratio of mentor faculty that stay close to the student and that scales up pretty well.

Severance’s hope is that the teaching assistants will scale up nicely, with a ratio of 50-100 to 1, and the faculty with a ratio of 100-200 to 1. While the Online Masters in Applied Data Science is breaking the traditional mold of online degrees, he finds that MOOC platform vendors have not shown they listen when universities ask for new features.

“If you want to do something bold, you have to find an integration point like learning tools interoperability or xblocks and plug in what you’re going to do. It is folly to hope that OPM providers will change their platform to meet your needs.”


Watch the second part of the interview with Dr. Chuck Severance in the two videos below (the first part of the interview is here).


Part III

Part IV

Open edX | May 2019: Harvard’s Blockstore, Jupyter, MITx, Blockchain…

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MAY 2019 – NEWSLETTER #16  |  More breaking news at IBL News 



• Harvard’s Blockstore Technology Will Enable Personalized Learning on Open edX

• Open Resources Such as Jupyter and Open edX Transform STEM Education, Proves Prof. Barba



• “Finding a Positive Synergy between MIT’s MOOCs and Learning on Campus”

• Starting in Online Learning: How Rochester Institute of Technology Navigates

• Up-skilling for Today’s Workforce: a Perspective from Lisa Stephens, SUNY



• Interview with Dr. Charles Severance, World’s Python Professor

• “Transparent AI Will Revolutionize Online Learning”



• Decentralization & Blockchain on Open edX: Sharing Without Needing Trust

• Few Impactful AI Developments On Education At Scale



Education Calendar  –    MAY  |  JUNE  |  JULY  |  AUG – DEC 2019



This newsletter about Open edX is a monthly report compiled by the IBL News staff, in collaboration with IBL Education, a New York City-based company that builds AI analytics-driven, revenue-oriented learning ecosystems, and courses with Open edX and other educational software. 

Read the latest IBL Newsletter on Online Education at Scale  |  Archive of Open edX Newsletters

Red Hat and Microsoft Partner Together, While IBM’s Acquisition Is Approved

Mikel Amigot | IBL News (Boston)

“Red Hat has evolved from a one-product company to the enterprise open source leader with a full portfolio stack,” said its CEO Jim Whitehurst during the first annual summit, which took place this week.

To highlight the moment, Red Hat modified its logo and launched a campaign around “open source” and how “it unlocks the world’s potential”.

“We hope you share the same passion”, encouraged Tim Yeaton, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer.

To live by the example, this manager inked himself with an arm tattoo displaying the company logo [in the picture]. He proudly showed it on stage during a talk about “open source stories” this Wednesday.

Another executive, Leigh Day, Marketing Communications Manager, did exactly the same.

In addition to updating its brand, Red Hat publicized several case studies (from

giants such as Delta or Deutsche Bank to farming and educational projects) who utilize open source hardware and software.

The Red Hat Summit in Boston was also notorious for the visit of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who walked on stage to talk with Jim Whitehurst, and bear the news of a new joint Microsoft-Red Hat program: Azure Red Hat OpenShift.

Two decades ago Microsoft’s Chairman Steve Ballmer claimed that “Linux is a cancer”, and now its CEO is coming into a major Linux tradeshow and announcing a partnership. (On the open source Open edX universe we’ve also seen a similar approach from Microsoft).

Satya Nadella explained that Microsoft has embraced open source, “because it’s driven by what I believe is fundamentally what our customers expect for us to do. Which is to say: Doing what’s best for both companies’ customers.”

“We have to be a bit more humble and say, ‘Okay, how do we bring value to the table with great technologies coming from a lot of places?,’” he added.

Whitehurst replied: “Five years ago we had been linked to the whole adversary relationship. It’s just amazing to see how much progress we’ve had together. And I think that’s on both sides and both desire to serve our customers, and we found such great range to work together.”

Microsoft’s move seems mostly motivated because its interest on promoting Azure on its fight with AWS, Google Cloud and others.

Last year, Red Hat brought its enterprise Kubernetes OpenShift platform to Microsoft’s Azure cloud.

The two companies see this pairing as a road forward for hybrid-cloud computing.

IBM’s Acquisition Approved

Just ahead of this conference, the US Department of Justice approved IBM’s proposed Red Hat acquisition, which was announced last October. This means the IBM/Red Hat acquisition for $34 Billion is still on track for the second half of 2019.

During the summit, IBM Chair and CEO Ginni Rometty reiterated Tuesday that Red Hat would remain independent as promised.

“Jim and I have both agreed—Red Hat should stay an independent unit,” she said during his keynote.

“I’m not buying them to destroy them. It’s a win win for our clients. It’s a way to drive more innovation.”

Learning At Scale | May 2019: Creative Commons, Docker, Coursera, Pluralsight…

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Creative Commons developed a new Search engine which allows users to find and use 300 million open licensed images.

• Docker created a foundation to educate minority engineers.

The Horizon Report for 2019 examined what past predictions got wrong, and gamification in education is one of them.



A 10-year contract means signing away your digital future, said an Extension Engine manager.

“Be careful when you hire an OPM: Outsourcing your virtual future is a bad idea”, writes Robert Ubell.



Knewton, who raised $180m in total funding to promote its adaptive learning technology, sold its assets to Wiley for an undisclosed amount.

McGraw-Hill and Cengage, two of the country’s three biggest textbook publishers, announced that they would merge.

Credly raised $11.1 million in new funding. This digital credentials company acquired Acclaim from Pearson last year.



Arizona State University (ASU) is adopting an AI-powered calculus learning platform created by two math professors at Stevens.

The Unizin consortium added Rutgers and Miami universities, along with two vendors, Examity and Kaltura.

Georgia Tech disclosed a data breach that could have exposed the personal information of 1.3 million people.

“At the end of the day, we reflect the voice of the learner”, says edX’s CEO.



• SEEK Australian Marketplace acquired 50% of FutureLearn for $64M.

• Coursera raised an additional $103 million placing itself closer to an IPO.

Pluralsight made its first acquisition since it went public in May 2018. It bought GitPrime, a code repository platform, for $170 million in cash.

Austin-based training platform A Cloud Guru raised $33 million to expand its content library and hire more instructors, engineers, and staff.



Education Calendar  –    MAY  |  JUNE  |  JULY  |  AUG – DEC 2019


This newsletter about learning innovation is a monthly report compiled by IBL News and IBL Education. If you enjoy what you read please consider forwarding it to spread the word. Click here to subscribe.

IBL Newsletter #21– April 2019
IBL Newsletter #20– March 2019
IBL Newsletter #19– January 2019
IBL Newsletter #18 – December 2018
IBL Newsletter #17 – November 2018


Open Resources Such as Jupyter and Open edX Transform STEM Education, Proves Prof. Barba

Mikel Amigot | IBL News

Using open educational resources such as Jupyter and Open edX to teach STEM will transform teaching and learning and result in an engaging active experience in the classroom.

This was the central idea of a faculty workshop conducted by Professor Lorena A. Barba, from The George Washington University (GW), at the University at Buffalo this weekend.

During this hands-on seminar, participants reviewed some of the education research underpinning design decisions and discovered practices of open education.

Also, it included an introduction to the Jupyter toolbox for teaching and learning.

“Jupyter is a killer app, it provides a medium for expression using computing as part of the learning,” said Professor Lorena Barba who has been using Jupyter for over six years.

“Using the Open edX course platform, you can construct learning pathways using content pulled dynamically from a public Jupyter notebook (e.g., on GitHub), with the Jupyter Viewer Xblock.”

GW, along with IBL Education, contributed two XBlocks to build edX-style courses based on Jupyter: the Viewer, and a Jupyter Grader for auto-graded student assignments.

Jupyter-based courses can be written using an open development model (like any open-source software project), collaboratively and under version control. Once the material is ready, instructors can build a MOOC-style course on Open edX, pulling the content from the notebooks without duplication in the course platform.

Instructors can interleave short videos and graded sub-sections using the built-in problem types, or using the Graded Jupyter XBlock.

“Our course development workflow is the product of several years of refinement and applies evidence-based instructional design. Combined with modern pedagogies used in the classroom, like active learning via live coding, you can create learning experiences that are effective on campus and online,” explained Prof. Barba.

Watch the interview with Professor Lorena A. Barba in the video below.




Decentralization & Blockchain on Open edX: Sharing Without Needing Trust

Zoe Mackay | IBL News

Miguel Amigot II, CTO of IBL Education, rethinks learning ecosystems by putting Blockchain technology at the core of their potential to adapt, during the 2019 Open edX conference.

Getting past Blockchain as a common buzzword, Miguel asks a simple question: “in the long term do we predict that data ownership will be centralized or decentralized?

Centralization is where we are today, as businesses protect their learners’ data and commoditize it. However, this is inefficient for the learner as there is no ability to move with ease between different learning management systems.

When we look at the alternative, Miguel says, decentralization is the ability to use Blockchain as the infrastructure layer, which in turn allows that decentralization to happen. “The common analogy is, Blockchain is HTTP.”

Blockchain allows us to see what a world would be where businesses and different organizations don’t make a living by siloing off that data.

An obvious use case is certificates, Miguel argues, which require time sensitivity and validity from their sources. This has already gained traction, such as MIT’s blockcerts that “allow us to insert certificates on the (public) Ethereum blockchain.”

Adaptive learning as another case study illuminates the issue that due to the siloing of information by companies, true adaptive learning is not yet possible. There is a rigidity that users face where they cannot prove what skills they have already mastered, because they are unable to share achievements from other learning platforms.

Blockchain allows convenience and flexibility in these case studies and many others, such as user management. In his talk, Miguel urges us to think, “Are these problems worth solving? Are we just going to say, in the future, everything is going to be centralized and we are going to live in a world where perpetually organizations make their money by siloing data and really implementing dark practices…”

Blockchain allows us to share without trusting each other. “There is some data that we are going to agree to share, and the arguments for that aren’t altruistic necessarily…it’s really just about what is most practical.”

Watch Miguel Amigot’s full talk in the video below.



Docker Creates a Foundation to Educate Minority Engineers

Miguel Amigot II, San Francisco

San Francisco-based Docker Inc, known for its widely used containerization software, introduced today Docker Foundation, intended to lower barriers to education and create opportunities for others.

“We want to transform the world through inclusive access to technology and education,” said CEO Steve Singh on his keynote this morning during the 2019 Dockercon conference.

One of the first partners of the Docker Foundation is, whose CEO Michael Ellison participated in a conversation with Steve Singh this morning. [In the picture].

“There is a huge wealth of minority tech talent that has been largely overlooked. They have the potential to succeed, but they need computer science programs that are designed to work with them” said Michael Ellison.

CodePath has developed three free, semester-long courses: Technical Interview Prep, Professional iOS, and iOS for CS Majors. Courses are offered on over 25 campuses worldwide.

Two other supported organizations will be Black Girls Code and the Holberton School.

Docker’s CEO announced that he is donating one million dollars to the Foundation. Another million will come from former CEO Ben Golub, serial entrepreneur and currently Executive Chairman and Interim CEO at Storj Labs.

The Docker Foundation is also joining the Pledge 1 % global philanthropy movement dedicated to giving back to those in need.

Interview with Dr. Charles Severance, World’s #1 Python Professor

Mikel Amigot, Zoe Mackay | IBL News

Dr. Charles Severance, Clinical Professor at the University of Michigan School of Information, discussed with IBL News the success of his world-renowned python course and where he sees his future in online education.

While Severance did not have the first python course online, he has the world’s most popular course which has reached over 4 million students. “Across all the platforms it exists on (Coursera, edX, and others), I have probably graduated about 200,000 students.

“What I’ve found is a very unique niche… computer science professors actually don’t know how to teach an introductory computer science course. They know how to teach [this] to someone who has been programming for several years. I specialize in actually teaching introduction to programming, which is a prerequisite to introduction to computer science.”

With Severance’s course, students were able to get the fundamental skills in programming that they necessitate to succeed in other introductory computer science courses. “I became, over the last 5 years, the de facto prerequisite for literally everything python.”

As the need for programmers is expanding, Dr. Severance’s courses offer a possibility to students who have no background in the computer sciences. Right now “you could learn python, you could work an entire 50-year career, and never learn another programming language. And in the future, python is going to further dominate.”

Primarily, his courses were offered on Coursera, but as of January 2019, Severance’s courses are available on edX.

I knew that edX was missing a course that was a beginning programming course, and if I could just give that as a gift to the entire edX community, then edX would be better.”

That is python for everybody, everywhere. And that is my joy, my joy is everywhere. No matter what country, what language, everyone has a chance to get a decent technical job that can take care of their families and give them a life and a future, and give them a step into education.”

The “Django for Everybody” Course Will Start In the First Quarter of 2020

With the most successful online introductory programming courses in the world, everyone is excited about new releases from Dr. Severance.

His “Django for Everybody” course, he says, will be started in the first quarter of 2020, after teaching it once more on campus. He aims to alter the course into a MOOC to be offered on Coursera or edX but will be available on his own website by January 2020.

Severance’s main goal is to adequately prepare students to fully succeed within computer science curricula. “I think there are many good degrees in computer science… My goal in life is to get as many people ready to go into a real degree with 40 or 50 faculty members.”

Speaking at the Open edX conference, Severance says that while he is attending “partly as a happy and satisfied faculty member successfully teaching on edX,” he is also aware that online learning is bound to change, and he also attended to see how “the next generation of LMS’s might take benefit from all of the wonderful experience that the edX software base [has provided].”

I think the greatest mistake that we can make is that just because products are successful in the marketplace does not mean they cannot be replaced by the next generation. If there has been anything in the last 15 years of education technology, it’s that there is always a new generation… and a wheel of progress.

I believe that there’s going to be a transformation…and the next LMS generation is going to be based on the next generation of standards — learning tools interoperability LTI advantage is just coming out.”

Watch the first part of the interview with Dr. Chuck Severance in the two videos below.

Part I

Part II

SEEK Australian Jobs Marketplace Acquires 50% of FutureLearn for $64M

The leading Australian employment marketplace SEEK continues its grandiose march into the education at scale industry, after a huge investment in Coursera last week.

FutureLearn, the fourth largest MOOC platform (after Coursera, edX, and Udacity) announced today, through its CEO Simon Nelson, that SEEK is taking 50 % of this educational portal for $64.6 million (£50 million).

“This is big news for us. SEEK adds experience and expertise in the employment sector, a good fit for the education sector as more people look for a return on the time and money they invest in learning,” stated Simon Nelson.

“We will still be offering access to courses for free but the investment means we can do more, more quickly. For example, we’ll continue to invest to ensure our platform remains extremely user-friendly and enjoyable to use on mobile, desktop and tablet. We’ll also remain focused on the courses we bring you so look out for more courses in terms of new subject areas, more degrees, and bite-sized stackable courses for learners keen to develop a particular skill for the workplace.”


• Press Release: The Open University secures £50M investment in social learning platform FutureLearn


“Finding a Positive Synergy between MIT’s MOOCs and Learning on Campus”

Zoe Mackay, Chris Dowhan | IBL News

Sheryl Barnes, Director of Digital Learning and Residential Education at MIT, shared with IBL News MIT’s extensive use of the edX platform following her talk at the Open edX conference.

MIT has a local version of the Open edX platform in addition to many MOOCs currently running on edX. Her task is “finding a positive synergy between the work that goes into developing the MOOCs and teaching on campus.” The content that is created for the MOOCs is easily repurposed for blended MIT classroom experiences, where instructors can utilize their video lectures and “repurpose the classroom time to do higher order thinking application, value added-type activities.”

99% of undergraduate MIT students have taken a class that utilizes the Open edX platform. The two major perks, as identified by Barnes, are the ability for instructors to create video lectures that are “the version they would like to give every time,” and using the self-graded problem types that allow instant feedback to students.

Barnes says that she is “excited about the teaching and learning folks in the community coming together.” While the Open edX conference has been steered toward the developer community in the past, the broadening to include these other sections of the online learning community has been beneficial for Barnes and her counterparts in education.

Watch Sheryl Barnes full interview with IBL News in the video below.