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Get up-to-speed with our Open edX howto videos

Appsembler has created dozens of How To videos for creating Open edX courses and using the platform. Check them out on our Youtube Channel.

Frequently Asked Questions about Open edX

These are some of the most frequently asked questions we get about Open edX. When reading this, please keep in mind that this reflects the state of the Open edX art today (December, 2015) and the Cypress release. Open edX is open source, though, and the team is releasing major updates very frequently; the next release, Dogwood, is scheduled for January, 2016.

And there are ways to add a capability if it doesn’t already exist, including:

  • add code built upon the Open edX core
  • create a new XBlock for a new content or test type (or add an existing one from a third party -- there are new ones coming out all the time)
  • implement a third party program that enhances Open edX

So beyond what we describe in this FAQ, you or we can make Open edX do virtually anything that you need

The Open edX Test Drive is a great way to get your hands on the platform and try out the course building experience for yourself. Appsembler’s Knowledgebase and YouTube channel have a lot of information on course creation.

If you’re interested in a particular capability for Open edX and you don’t see it described here, please contact us and we can talk about how to best provide it for you.

The Open edX experience has two major components: Studio, where you create courses, and the LMS where students take them. We’ll answer frequently asked questions about the LMS first, and then get to the course building experience in Studio, and also answer other questions about Open edX administration.

Open edX Student Experience

Does Open edX have an intuitive, polished interface: it should look modern and be easy to use.

This is one of the first things that strike people who use Open edX; as one person put it, "unlike many other learning management systems it actually looks like it was developed in the 21st Century." In less than four years over five million people have taken edX courses.  Open edX has a modern, clean course experience for students. This is a course on creating courses with Open edX Studio. The navigation is on the top and left, and the video includes a synchronized transcript that can be downloaded. Open edX has a modern, clean course experience for students. This is a course on creating courses with Open edX Studio. The navigation is on the top and left, and the video includes a synchronized transcript that can be downloaded.

Can we visually brand our Open edX site, an individual course or series of courses through graphics, color, typography?

Yes, you can brand -- "theme" -- your Open edX instance. And you can give unique looks to groups of courses, such as those from a particular division or geography, using the Open edX microsites functionality. Finally, you can make modest modifications to individual courses and alter their navigation options, too.

Does Open edX functions fluidly on conventional web browsers for Windows, OSX and mobile platforms?

Open edX can be used on current versions of the Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Internet Explorer browsers.

How can students track activity and performance?

Students can take quizzes and tests and upload files. Using the Staff Graded Assignment feature developed by Appsembler's sister company Jazkarta, and added to the core edX code in 2014, instructors can grade and comment on student submissions. Using the Open Response Assessment (ORA) feature developed by Appsembler students can grade the essays of their peers.

How do students know where they left off within the course?

Open edX automatically returns the students to the place they were in the course when they last closed it.

Can students see course progress or completion status?

Yes, students can see where they are in a course overview/outline, and in a course Progress chart.  Open edX Student Progress

Can students search within a course?

Yes, with the EdX Search application you can empower students to search within particular courses, and the video transcripts of those courses.

Does Open edX provide responsive design across devices - videos and graphics resize as well as text?

Responsive design is not currently a native Open edX capability, but Appsembler has created responsive themes for our clients. It is expected to be delivered in 2016 by edX for all courses.

Can instructors add a course Glossary?

Open edX currently doesn’t have a native glossary feature, but an instructor could provide a PDF glossary in the course materials.

Course creation in Studio

Can we simply and efficiently add text content and format appropriately via a WYSIWYG editor?

Yes, this is a standard feature. The ease of use of creating and using Open edX courses is one of the major reasons organizations are moving to it.You may find the edX 101 course on the Creating a Course with edX Studio course on useful.

Can we edit the HTML?

Yes, you can edit HTML in edX. Here is more information on that:  pasted image 0-2

Support for multiple media types for presentation, download or submission: Video, audio, text, images, PDFs.

Yes, video is central to the course experience in most Open edX courses and audio, text, images and PDFs all are supported.

Are videos usually hosted on the same server as the courses?

No, many organizations use YouTube for their video hosting, or a third-party service. Open edX videos could be hosted on Google Cloud or AWS but, of course, the fees would be much higher than on a free service like YouTube.  This is part of the Studio interface. Open edX has UI support for over 20 languages including such double-byte languages as Chinese, Japanese, Arabic and Hebrew. This is part of the Studio interface. Open edX has UI support for over 20 languages including such double-byte languages as Chinese, Japanese, Arabic and Hebrew.

Is there a mechanism to allow submission of documents and files from students?

Yes, using the Staff Graded Assignment feature students can upload and instructors can grade assignments. This is a feature commissioned by MIT that the Appsembler team built and has now been incorporated as a core feature of the edX platform.

Does Open edX support slideshows?

Yes, you can post Powerpoints and other slideshows to edX.

Can you group all course downloads, handouts, etc. all together in a ‘library’, as well as embed them individually with lesson content?

You can upload files into a library and reference them in any course content:   There is a handouts feature. Open edX provides a content libraries feature which lets you create a library of content that can be re-used across multiple courses. When you change the content in the library the content is updated in all the courses.

Can you create a randomized set of questions from a pool of questions?

Can you import and export content from other online education systems?

Appsembler has provided Open edX SCORM support using SCORM Cloud as described in this blog post, and are working on deeper native SCORM support for a client that we will deliver this winter. Open edX is an LTI provider and consumer.

Design Examples

What are some examples of customers who have modified the edX template/theme?

Appsembler has developed an Open edX theming engine that enables us to implement new themes on the Open edX platform more rapidly. Some examples of our work include: In addition, you can use a custom Title image at the beginning of each course.

Can course developer modify the naming and elements of the top navigation?

Yes, you can rename tabs; our client Aquent has renamed the “discussion” tab to “forum”, for example. And navigation elements can be removedentirely.

Interactive Exercises & Tests

Can instructors create simple or complex quizzes or tests using text, images or video clips as needed?

Yes, here is information on tests and quizzes. Use of images and video is fundamental to edX   The Problem Builder XBlock has capabilities that can help you provide feedback and hints to the student.   Some of the hundreds of other XBlocks available for Open edX include:
  • Integration with cloud storage services such as Google Drive and Dropbox
  • Student polls
  • Integration with third-party video hosting services such as Brightcove
  • Ask questions during playback of YouTube videos
  • Mathematical physics simulations
  • Adding hotspots to course images
  • Drag and Drop questions
  • Awarding digital badges
Appsembler could create a custom XBlock to support any content, exercise or test type that’s not currently provided.

We want students to be able to practice on our software. Could Open edX support this?

Yes, Appsembler has developed a custom virtual software lab for our clients that lets students instantly spin up a copy of their software to work on.

Student Communication

How can students communicate with instructors?

The instructor and students in a course can communicate with one another in course discussion areas, and instructors and individual students can communicate directly via a one-to-one discussion thread and email. Instructors can email students individual or as a group.

Can students submit questions?

Yes, students can post to discussion threads or email instructors.

Is there the ability to post news or alerts, if desired, per course (ex. announcements @ upcoming events? RSS feed?)


Site and Course Administration

Where can Open edX sites be hosted?

An Open edX site can be hosted on a Linux web server on your premises and on such Cloud services as AWS and Google Cloud. But Open edX hosting is much more complicated than hosting a basic WordPress or Drupal site. Appsembler provides managed Open edX hosting with 99.95% guaranteed uptime, maintenance and support that provides global access via the Google Cloud.

Can you setup a course to enforce “locking” so that a student can’t go on to the next unit until they have completed the current unit (e.g. achieved a certain score on the assessment at the end of the previous unit)?

Yes, the Problem Builder XBlock (formerly called the Mentoring XBlock) has something called "Progression tracking" which requires that the student has completed a particular steps before allowing them to complete the next step.

Similar question, but at a higher level - can you define a series of course but not let the student start the second course until they have successfully completed the first?

Yes, Open edX has the concept of pre-requisites, but at this time, you can only specify 1 course as a prerequisite.   Appsembler created a Learning Paths feature for a client that auto-enrolls students in a sequence of courses and tracks which course they need to take next.   You can also require an entrance exam before the student can enroll in a course:

What course and and student analytics does Open edX provide? Are we able to track individual learner progress? Is that through the UI? Can we track how many students went through a particular lesson over a particular period of time?

Yes, Open edX tracks everything about course activity. Much of that is available through the native program and the Insights add-on. Additional analytics can be custom developed by accessing the data through the API; some third-parties have created highly customizable tools to do this.  You can see student progress in the instructor dashboard, and the edX Insights add-on provides course team members with data about student activity, background and performance throughout the course. Using edX Insights can help you monitor how students are doing, and validate the choices you made in designing your course. It can also help you re-evaluate choices and inform efforts to improve your course and the experience of your learners. Here's another page which has some examples of weekly student engagement charts that edX Insights provides.

Can the analytics data points be queried via the REST API?

Yes, these are the various analytics endpoints exposed by the REST API:

Can we integrate with ActiveDirectory or LDAP for managing users?

Can we integrate Open edX with Salesforce for course access or tracking student data?

Yes, Appsembler has integrated Open edX with Salesforce for a number of clients.  For one client they use the role of the Salesforce contact to control which courses the person can enroll in. For others we’re storing Open edX student data in Salesforce.

If I define a lesson in one course, can I use it in another course? If that is possible, is it still single source is duplicated (meaning changes made to the lesson in one course won’t appear in the other)?

There are two ways of doing this. You can create a lesson in one course, export it as OLX (Open Learning XML) and import it into a new course. In this case, the content is duplicated. Here's some more info about OLX in case you're curious: If you want to have a single canonical source for that piece of content, and only modify it in one place to have that content be updated everywhere it is used, then you'd want to make use of edX's content libraries feature.

Is there PayPal or Stripe integration?

Yes, the next version of Open edX (Dogwood) which is expected to be released in January, 2016, will have a modern e-commerce engine (codenamed Otto) that supports multiple payment gateways including Paypal and Stripe.   Appsembler has already developed some preliminary support for Stripe with the existing shopping cart functionality in edX. It also appears from the edx-code mailing list that a 3rd party contributor has gotten Paypal working with edX: If you’re interested in a particular capability for Open edX and you don’t see it described here, please contact us and we can talk about how to best provide it for you.
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