Open edX | August 2018 Newsletter : Hawthorn, Jupyter Notebook, Georgia Tech, Campus-IL…

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AUGUST 2018 – NEWSLETTER #8  |  More stories at



• Hawthorn.1 Is Finally Here – edX Launches Its Eighth Version of the Platform

• Open edX Hawthorn’s New Features

• Hawthorn’s New Features Reviewed by the Community



• Open IBL Jupyter Notebook: New Distribution of Open edX on AWS’ AMI Community

• The 2018 Jupyter Notebook Conference Highlighted the Success of this Tool in Education



• IBM’s Launches Two Professional Programs on

• Georgia Tech Launches a Master’s Degree for $10K on

• Op-Ed: Freshman Year Can Be Free Online For Anyone

• Two MIT Professors Recognized For Their Methods and Technologies on edX’s MOOCs



• NVIDIA Adds New Improvements to Its Open edX Training Ecosystem

• Campus-IL, Israel’s National Open edX Platform, Consolidates Its Project

• Podcast: Vermont Oxford Network (VON) Learning Platform In Depth

University at Buffalo Explores How to Incorporate Virtual Immersive Pedagogy on MOOCs


This newsletter about Open edX is a monthly report compiled by the IBL News journalist staff, in collaboration with IBL Education, a New York City-based company that builds data-driven, revenue-oriented learning ecosystems and courses with Open edX. If you enjoy what you read please consider forwarding it to spread the word. Click here to subscribe. 

Newsletter #7 July 2018
Newsletter #6 June 2018
Newsletter #5 May 2018
Newsletter #4 April 2018
Newsletter #3 November 2017

Newsletter #2 Octubre 2017
Newsletter #1 Sept 2017

Read also the latest IBL Newsletter on Learning Innovation

Hawthorn’s New Features Reviewed

The new Open edX Hawthorn includes many new features and updates and, three weeks after its launch, the community keeps exploring them.

Nate Aune, CEO at Appsembler, posted his discoveries on a recent post.

This is a summary:

  • More granularity on how the learner is progressing without having to rely on graded assignments. Green completion checkmarks appear in the navigation bar when a learner completes a unit. Additionally, a unit is marked as “complete” when the learner has viewed all video and HTML content and has submitted answers to all problems. This feature has to be activated through the Django admin.
  • Ability to offer both video streaming options with adaptive video streaming. Video streaming automatically adapts to the learner’s connection speed. This is especially advantageous when accessing from mobile phones which run on lower-speed internet connections
  • A new mobile app with a streamlined finding new courses and bulk downloading videos all at once features, as well as more languages.
  • Updated HTML components in Studio to give course authors easier formatting and image insertion. Texts can be aligned left or right, centered, or fully justified. Images can be added directly without uploading them beforehand; it requires to activate this feature in Django admin.
  • Improved Files & Uploads page with filters and drag and drop in the Studio CMS.
  • Weekly email message to learners listing course highlights as a way to keep them engaged. Activation of this feature requires several steps, as described in the documentation.
  • A user retirement feature to remove data in response to user requests for deletion following the European GDPR.
  • Improved learning profile page and discussion forum (with email report to users).
  • Ability to purchase all the courses in a program in one transaction, optionally with a discount.
  • Transferable student records.


Two MIT Professors Recognized For Their Methods and Technologies on edX’s MOOCs

Two MIT instructors were recognized with the 2018 MITx Prize for Teaching and Learning on MOOCs:

  • Chris Caplice, executive director of the MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics [left on the picture], received the award for his work on the MicroMasters Program in Supply Chain Management, which includes five 13-week courses and mirrors what MIT does in on-campus classes. Caplice is praised for his “dedication to creating a high-quality learner experience both in the courses and beyond, and his work to ensure the value of the credential through a rigorous assessment.”
  • Justin Reich, executive director of the MIT Teaching Systems Lab, was selected for his work on 11.154x (Launching Innovation in Schools). This six-week course encourages educators to apply the learning in a collaborative environment.

The two instructors were selected from a pool of individuals who made significant contributions to the MITx MOOC coursework offered on in 2017.

The prize, in its second year, is part of MIT’s effort to encourage content developed with new methods and technologies intended to engage online learners.




The 2018 Jupyter Notebook Conference Highlighted the Success of this Tool in Education

The 2018 Jupyter Notebook conference, which took place last week in New York, dedicated this year roughly 20 percent of its talks to education (11 talks in total), a significant increase from 2017 when only a keynote and off-program session were scheduled.

Professor Lorena Barba, from the George Washington University, set the tone, with a talk alongside Robert Talbert, from Gran Valley State University, about the flipped learning experiences with Jupyter. Prof. Talbert described it as “a new pedagogical model, where the instructor is a guide”, while Prof. Barba said that “Jupyter is a new genre of OER”. Also, “it is about discovering activities by working through structured computational software”.

Scholars from Berkeley University explained how the institution successfully uses Jupyter Notebook on edX online classes, with 1,000 students in data8, plus 10,000+ in a free online edX version. Rob Newton, from Trinity School, advocated the use of Jupyter “for every schooler”, especially in Statistics and Calculus courses. In a passionate keynote, Carol Willing, from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, highlighted that “Jupyter creates value and connects people”. Quoting Walt Disney, she said, “if you dream it, you can build it”Jessica Forte, from Jupyter [in the picture], praised the IBL Education work by integrating Jupyter into the Open edX platform and pointed the audience to the code on Github.

The future of Jupyter in education was unanimously considered as extremely promising, and speakers agreed on the characterization of Tim O’Reilly –who was seen at the conference– on Jupyter, which this year received the ACM Software System Award, as “the next big thing”.

At the beginning of the conference, Fernando Perez, Paco Nathan, and Brian Granger, who chaired the conference, summarized speakers, sponsors and attendants’ view with the sentence “Jupyter makes us successful”.

Jeffrey Poore described in his blog Jupyter’s possibilities:

“Jupyter is a powerful tool that should be a part of almost anyone’s toolbox. It might seem like it is a tool that is focused on Data Science and Machine Learning, but in actuality, it is way more than that. It can be a teaching tool, a code IDE, a presentation tool, a collaborative tool, and much much more. With tools like Jupyter Lab that are easily extensible, there is almost nothing that you couldn’t do directly in it.” 

“Another example allowed you to play mp4 movie files. A third extension let you browse GitHub repositories. Extensions are written in NodeJS and can use UI technologies like ReactJS. If you can build it for a standalone website, you can build it to run inside a Jupyter Lab instance. This opens up possibilities for dashboards, applications, monitoring tools, and more. You could literally run your entire business through Jupyter Lab.”


This is a selection of tweets:


University at Buffalo Explores How to Incorporate Virtual Immersive Pedagogy on MOOCs

Virtual immersive pedagogy is a hot area in higher-education.

The University at Buffalo, part of the SUNY system, has announced that it will increase its research on how to incorporate VR and AR into forthcoming MOOCS.

The emerging role of virtual and augmented reality tools in the teaching-learning and research space is a key innovation area within the SUNY (State University of New York) system.

New research abstracts along with discoveries virtual immersive pedagogy will be presented at a SUNY’s FACT Symposium scheduled on November 9, 2018, in Albany, NY.

Last July, the University at Buffalo (UB) demonstrated a robot safety course that integrated VR. That course was built on UB’s new Open edX platform.

“Virtual reality is rapidly advancing, enabling us to develop computer-generated learning environments that closely mimic the real world. In turn, students can interact with these environments in real-time, offering a richer educational experience,” said Timothy Leyh, executive director The Center for Industrial Effectiveness at UB.

“This successful experiment could be a blueprint for colleges and universities looking to implement VR and other innovations into their online course offerings,” said Lisa Stephens, PhD, Assistant Dean of Digital Education at UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

UB’s partners in the project included the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the College of Arts and Sciences, the Center for Educational Innovation, and UB Information Technology.

Other universities such as Harvard have been working to incorporate virtual reality into MOOCs. However, this approach to online learning is still in its infancy, which led UB and its partners to develop their own strategy for applying the technology.

“The UB team is working to deliver virtual reality on a massive scale that includes built-in feedback for students and faculty,” said Lisa Stephens, PhD, assistant dean of digital education in UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Multiple units at UB are collaborating, in addition to several partners, to launch an array of continuing education classes, and this VR test became part of that initiative.  “Fortunately, we were already working with IBL Education to help with the rollout, and when Crosswater Digital Media and Docola agreed to help with the pilot, we had the perfect expertise to realize this vision,” said Jay Stockslader, Director of Continuing Education for UB’s College of Arts and Sciences.

“The demonstration with collaborative robots captured in high-quality, 360-degree video was a great success. Imagine universities, companies and other organizations having the ability to train people how to work with robots in a realistic yet safe environment. People will already have vast experience before walking on to the job site,” adds Stephens.

UB will launch a full collaborative robot safety course, without VR, on Sept. 4 on the Coursera learning platform.


Open IBL Jupyter Notebook: New Distribution of Open edX on AWS’ AMI Community

IBL Education is launching today a Jupyter Notebook – ready Open edX distribution. Open IBL Jupyter Notebook is built on the Ginkgo.2 version of Open edX.  This release is free and is ready to go from the AWS (Amazon Web Services) AMI community.

In June, the IBL engineering team launched Open IBL, an easy-to-handle, production-ready distribution based on Open edX’s Ginkgo.2, which was equipped with a command-line builder. These two screencast videos explained the installation and configuration process. (Video 1, Video 2)

This week, in parallel with the Jupyter Conference in New York (Aug 22-24), and also as a contribution to the educational community, IBL launches another version of the Open IBL distribution which includes the two recent Jupyter Notebook-related Xblocks:

  1. Jupyter Notebook Viewer XBlock. It allows from any public Jupyter Notebook (e.g., in a public repo on GitHub), pull content into a course learning sequence using only the URL, and optional start and end marks (any string from the first cell to include, and the first cell to exclude). As a result of it, course authors will be able to develop their course content as Jupyter Notebook, and to build learning sequences reusing that content, without duplication. It also has the added benefit that the development of the material can be hosted on a version-controlled repository.[See IBL’s post about the XBlock, and the code repository—the XBlock is open source under a BSD3 license.]
  2. Graded Jupyter Notebook XBlock. It allows to create an assignment using the nbgrader Jupyter extension, then insert a graded sub-section in Open edX that will deliver this assignment (as a download), auto-grade the student’s uploaded solution, and record the student’s score in the gradebook. The XBlock instantiates a Docker container with all the required dependencies, runs nbgrader on the student-uploaded notebook, and displays immediate feedback to the student in the form of a score table.[See IBL’s post, and the code repository—the XBlock is open source under BSD3.]

This Open IBL Jupyter Notebook distribution has been created with the strategic and pedagogical support of Lorena A. Barba group, from The George Washington University.

DEMO of Open IBL Jupyter Notebook (Extended Version)


Prof. Barba has been teaching with Jupyter for the last five years. Her first open teaching module using Jupyter was “CFD Python”, released in July 2013. In 2014, Barba developed and taught the first massive open online course (MOOC) at the George Washington University: “Practical Numerical Methods with Python.” The course was written entirely as Jupyter Notebook, and it was self-hosted on a custom Open edX site (where it amassed more than 8000 users over 3 years).

Jupyter is a set of open-source tools for interactive and exploratory computing. At the center of them is the Jupyter Notebook, a document format for writing narratives that interleave multi-media content with executable code, using any of a set of available languages (of which Python is the most popular).

The two mentioned XBlocks, a brainchild of Prof. Lorena Barba and implemented by her tech partners at IBL Education, were presented at the 2018 Open edX Conference last May 30 in Montreal, Canada. Prof. Lorena Barba, from GW, and Miguel Amigot II, CTO at IBL Education, presented those two software extensions, intended to better integrate Jupyter into the Open edX platform.

Barba, Lorena A.; Amigot, Miguel (2018): Jupyter-based courses in Open edX: Authoring and grading with notebooks. figshare. Presentation.

Podcast: Vermont Oxford Network (VON) Learning Platform In Depth

The Open edX software-based Vermont Oxford Network (VON), a nonprofit collective of multidisciplinary medical professionals founded in 1998, has developed a uniquely collaborative, evidence-based learning network among clinicians of over 1000 neonatal intensive care units and hospital nurseries around the world.

Denise Zayack and John McGregor, two of the VON’s program leaders, elaborated on their social and collaborative learning strategies, in a podcast–conversation with John Leh, a known independent educational consultant on his “Talented Learning Show”.

VON’s learning platform, which uses the Open edX technology [disclosure: deployed by IBL Education], allows neonatal healthcare clinicians to earn credit and work together to gain knowledge and develop a learning improvement project they’ll continually modify over time.

“We integrated different types of scaffolded learning to segment the content so they can focus on specific topics as work through a particular project and determine how they should best teach that to their users. So the learning experience has to be flexible, yet very targeted and segmented at the same time,” explained John McGregor.

The Talented Learning Show Podcast: How Does Social Learning Improve Infant Healthcare?


NVIDIA Adds New Improvements to Its Open edX Training Ecosystem

NVIDIA, Silicon Valley’s powerhouse on GPU computing and artificial intelligence, has just launched a new version of its online training platform “to deliver an enhanced hands-on learning experience”, according to this company.

The NVIDIA Deep Learning Institute added these new features:

  • Skill-based certifications which can be shared online and added to students’ resumes
  • Continued access to fully-configured, GPU-accelerated workstations in the cloud
  • Single sign-on (SSO) integration with the NVIDIA free Developer Program (if you’re not a member, you can sign up for free today)

Additionally, NVIDIA has recently added several self-paced classes and instructor-led content to its course platform, built on an Open edX – based ecosystem.

In terms of number of learners, NVIDIA is on its way to reach the first 100K students by the end of this year.


Op-Ed: Freshman Year Can Be Free Online For Anyone

[Originally published in The Baltimore Sun]

By James M. Murphy

The American system of higher education is unparalleled. Our public and private institutions — including many right here in Baltimore— offer world-class opportunities in the sciences, humanities and arts, and prepare students for vibrant intellectual and professional lives. However, the benefits of this system are unequally distributed. A college education is unaffordable for many Americans, and its traditionally residential nature creates barriers for adult and non-traditional students. In fact, students previously considered non-traditional are now the norm.

Celebrating its one-year anniversary this August, the philanthropy Modern States Education Alliance harnesses online education to shatter these economic and geographic obstacles. [Disclosure: IBL Education developed the Modern States Open edX platform and the courses]

Students of any age or economic background can utilize Modern States’ catalog of free online freshman-level college classes taught with state-of-the-art technology by professors from some of America’s most renowned universities including Johns Hopkins where I am a member of the math faculty. I teach four Modern States courses, each designed to help students pass a CLEP (College-Level Examination Program) exam offered through the College Board. A passing score on a CLEP exam translates to college credit at thousands of colleges and universities, including University of Maryland, Morgan State University, Coppin State University, Towson University, Community College of Baltimore County, Loyola University of Maryland, Mount Saint Mary’s University and many others in the Mid-Atlantic.

CLEP exams cost $87, substantially less than the thousands of dollars it costs to take an on-campus math class. Moreover, Modern States is paying the exam fee for the first 10,000 students to take a course and corresponding CLEP. These courses are compact, self-contained versions of typical introductory college math classes, and they allow students to refine and develop their skills in mathematics at no cost.

As with my on-campus classes, my Modern States classes begin with fundamentals, then follow the natural progression of the material as it would be taught in the classroom. I take the time to provide detail when working out problems, explaining the crucial steps that are imperative for learning. Providing clear insights is critical in the online format and ensures my contribution as the lecturer and architect for this course is far more valuable than a textbook alone.

My online students are diverse. Some are typical college-age and testing out of introductory courses as a means to make college more affordable. Many are working adults who need an online platform instead of the traditional residential experience. Others are returning veterans, looking to bring themselves up to speed in college mathematics before returning to campus. My Modern States courses democratize education by allowing any student to learn and grow as a student of mathematics, regardless of age, geography or financial means.

The Modern States online courses are not designed to replace the traditional American college experience but to complement it and increase its accessibility. By helping students move past remedial courses through online study and earn credit through the CLEP exam, my Modern States courses provide an on-ramp to college. I believe that online content can never replace the real, human interaction between teacher and pupil, especially in advanced courses and in mentorship. However, I also believe online courses can open the door to higher education for the millions of Americans who believe it is out of reach.

Education changes lives, and the educational opportunities in America are second to none. It is for this reason that new opportunities to democratize education should be seized with both hands.

Of course, you don’t have to take my word for it. Go to All you need is an internet connection and the desire to learn.

James M. Murphy ( is a postdoctoral fellow within the Department of Mathematics at Johns Hopkins University.

Learning Innovation | August 2018: UPenn, Moodle, Udacity, Blackboard, Skillshare…

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The University of Pennsylvania will launch its first fully online degree in engineering. It will be offered in Coursera for $26,300, one-third of the on-campus version’s price tag.

Private colleges or universities closures will rise to a rate of 11 per year, according to Moody’s.

• Higher-ed is facing worrying financial signs, The Washington Post concluded.

Amazon is not providing schools with good deals despite its reputation for cheaper prices.

Moodle ended its partnership with Blackboard, and it won’t allow to use the “Moodlerooms” name.

Blackboard continued its market decline to 28 percent while its debt took a hit of $1.3 billion.

Four megatrends shaping global education, according to the Chief Product Officer at Trilogy Education.

Udacity’s COO explains how it decides what subjects to offer and who it wants to partner with.

Skillshare raised $28 million to accelerate its model of being a Netflix-like subscription model for online education.

A Georgia State University professor was awarded the McGraw Prize in education (video talk).

Columbia University opened a research center devoted to blockchain technology.

Blackboard updated CourseSites, its free MOOC platform

• Education Events Calendar by IBL News

This newsletter about learning innovation is a monthly report compiled by the IBL News journalist staff, in collaboration with IBL Education, a New York City-based company that builds data-driven learning ecosystems and courses with Open edX. If you enjoy what you read please consider forwarding it to spread the word. Click here to subscribe. 

IBL Newsletter #13 – July 2018
IBL Newsletter #12 – June 2018
IBL Newsletter #11 – May 2018
IBL Newsletter #10 – April 2018
IBL Newsletter #9 – March 15, 2018
IBL Newsletter #8 – March 1, 2018
IBL Newsletter #7 – February 2018
IBL Newsletter #6 – January 31, 2018

IBL Newsletter #5 – January 15, 2018
IBL Newsletter #4 – December 2017
IBL Newsletter #3 – November 2017
IBL Newsletter #2 – October 2017
IBL Newsletter #1 – September 2017