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On Thursday, edX announced it was releasing the source code to its XBlock software on GitHub under the Affero General Public License, a GPL variant designed for network server software. This is a first step toward open sourcing the entire edX software platform.
Already a MOOC sensation, edX offers courses from leading universities for free, with many of the supporting textbooks and other materials published as open educational resources. Now, edX is opening up access to the software used to create interactive learning tools like the circuit simulator in its popular Circuits and Electronics course and the molecular manipulator in Introduction to Biology – The Secret of Life.
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Founded by MIT and Harvard, with a total of 12 universities now participating, edX is organized as a non-profit, whereas some of the other MOOCs are organized as companies that plan to profit from creating complementary products and services around the courses they offer for free.
"The fact that the platform is open as well is very much congruent with our vision for openness," said Anant Agarwal, an MIT professor who serves as edX's president. The timeline for releasing source code for the rest of the platform has not been announced, but it will be soon, he said.
According to the edX announcement, "XBlock is a component architecture that enables developers to create independent course components, or XBlocks, that are able to work seamlessly with other components in the construction and presentation of an online course. Course authors are able to combine XBlocks from a variety of sources -- from text and video to sophisticated wiki-based collaborative learning environments and online laboratories -- to create rich engaging online courses."
Initially, the interactive course modules built around this code will only be usable with the edX service. However, as the rest of the code for the platform becomes available, institutions who are not necessarily part of the edX consortium will be able to host them.
Getting open-source developers to work on software that uses the XBlock code is important to edX's strategy for expanding the types of learning that can occur on its platform, because a module developed for physics won't necessarily be usable for a course in history or some other discipline, Agarwal said.