Open edX conference 2016 wrap up - Appsembler

Open edX conference 2016 wrap up

We’re back from the 3rd annual Open edX conference at Stanford University, and wanted to share some of the highlights. The Stanford campus was an absolutely lovely place to host a conference, an intimate venue with lunches outdoors, and places to lounge and chat with other attendees. Thank you Stanford for hosting and thanks to the hardworking team at edX for organizing and putting on this amazing conference!

There were many excellent talks, tutorials and birds of a feather sessions at the conference, but the informal conversations in the hallway and during the breaks were the best! We met so many innovators who are using Open edX to empower educators and students around the world. It was really inspiring!

Appsembler was a very active participant in the conference as you can see from this summary (scroll down to see slides and videos):

  • We were a premier sponsor which means we had a table with t-shirts, case studies, stickers, video demonstrations of our Virtual Labs product and our forthcoming microsites management tool. We also had lots of conversations with other attendees, hearing about how they’re using Open edX and their challenges.
  • We were six Appsembler team members at the conference (see team pic on the right)
  • We gave two presentations
    • Getting your SCORM content into Open edX with the SCORM XBlock (by Nate Aune)
    • Open edX and Interoperability: Getting Open edX to place nicely with others (by Nate Aune)
  • We led one panel discussion that included 3 of our customers as panelists
    • Open edX for Corporate Learning (moderated by Nate Aune)
  • We conducted two tutorials (sadly these were not recorded)
    • Intro to Studio (by Nate Aune)
    • Deploying and Managing Production Open edX sites (by TJ Keemon)
  • Our customers gave 2 talks and 1 tutorial:
  • We organized 6 “Birds of a Feather” (BoF) sessions – informal gatherings to discuss topics of interest
    • Wistia XBlock for video
    • SCORM Content in Open edX
    • Interoperability
    • Open edX on Azure
    • Mobile apps for Open edX
    • Open edX for Corporate Learning
  • We hosted a dinner for our customers who attended the conference.
  • We participated in the community dinner organized by Joel and Molly (Open edX team at edX)
  • We participated in the hackathon, and our developer TJ Keemon worked on integrating Let’s Encrypt for easily generating SSL certificates to secure an Open edX site.

Getting your SCORM content into Open edX with the SCORM XBlock

We have already blogged a bit about the SCORM XBlock leading up to the conference, but this was the first time we were publicly presenting it. We literally finished the XBlock the week before the conference, so it’s still hot off the press!

In this lightning talk, I give a short history of SCORM, describe the solution for authors and students, give a short demo of the XBlock in action, and then make a call for others to get involved, either in sponsoring further development or helping with the development.


Nate: Hey, everybody. My name is Nate Aune. I’m with Appsembler. We’re a Open edX solution provider we work with a lot of companies. And a lot of those companies have been asking us about their e-learning content that they created in other tools, other desktop publishing tools. And they wanna be able to export that content into SCORM.

How many people here know what SCORM is?


For those of you who don’t, SCORM stands for, Sharable Content Object Reference Model.

This was invented by the military so they like acronyms. And basically the sharable content object indicates that a SCORM is all about creating units of online training materials that can be shared across different systems. So the SCORM defines how to create these sharable content objects.

Or SCOs as they’re called. They can be reused across different systems and contexts. On the reference model, reflects that SCORM is not actually a standard. The ADL, which is the research organization that the military funded, they didn’t actually write SCORM from the ground up. Instead, they noticed that the industry all ready had all these standards available. And so, they basically just referenced these existing standards.

So that’s where the name comes from. Why does this still say loading? Great. So,why SCORM? Why would you wanna use it? So as I said you might have existing content that you wanna reuse that you created in other tools. You don’t wanna have to reauthor that content for Open edX. You wanna basically just move that stuff right into edX. These tools also give you very rich interactive capabilities that are more difficult to replicate in Open edX. [COUGH] And so, that’s some of the reasons why you might wanna use SCORM. And these are some of the tools that you could use.

Captivate, Storyline, Camtasia, these are popular SCORM authoring tools. And all these tools, they give you like a file export option where you can choose SCORM as your destination file type.

The problem is that people, up to this point they haven’t had a way of getting this content into Open edX, but now they can with the XBlock for SCORM and I’m just gonna give a quick demo of this. Does someone wanna either hit the play button or switch to the MP file? Probably the MP is gonna be safer on the network. So it works like every other XBlock. You just create a new unit, you choose the advance tab, you select SCORM and then you click on the edit. And then, here’s where you get a dialog box where you can give it a name,you can give it a description.

Here, we’re gonna upload a climate change score module, which is just a zip file. And then, you can specify what player you wanna use, here we’re using a player called SSLA player. You can choose if you wanna have that be a Popup Window or an IFrame, in this case we’re doing a Popup. You can choose the width and the height of the Popup. And then, some additional parameters there for the player configuration. And then, it saves it, it uploads it and now right in your Open edX course you now have that score and content appear.

Now, we have to publish it and view the live version And now, as a student, I can click on module one and it pops up that SCORM asset right in the browser and I can start using it. When you’re done going through the SCORM module, it’s actually talking back to edX to report the scores. So that’s one of the big benefits of SCORM is you can actually track the student activity, and we can talk more about that during the Q&A period.

So we had goals for the authors and we had goals for the instructors. The goals for the author was we wanted to make it really easy to add these score modules through the interface. We didn’t wanna make someone go use some other tool, we wanna basically have a native-like experience in the studio. Uploading those as zip files, and also being able to assign a grade weight, I forgot to mention that. You can assign a grade weight. And we wanna have a configurable backend. So they can either go to local storage or they can go up to F. And then, having the presentation be configurable, either IFrame or a Popup.

Goals for the student experience. We want to be able to present this content along side of other modules. I only have  seconds left.

[LAUGH] Save the student scores, if they browse away they can come back. And we want to be able to support navigation between different, multiple scales. So these are some of the things we wanna do next, right now is using a commercial player we’d like to remove that dependency eventually and have an open source player.

Automate the configuration of the front end, change some of the appearance and then add some analytics and then obviously we wanna do a lot of more testing with different types of SCOs to see how well they work. So we’d like to take this opportunity to invite other people to get involved. That can be beta testing the software to find bugs, suggest features. If you really need SCORM and edX and you have some money and you wanna sponsor development, that’s great too. And if you’re a developer and you wanna help write the code, we love to collaborate with other people on that. And with that, I wanna mention that we’re gonna be having a birds of the feather session right after this at  o’clock in room , where we can continue the conversation about SCORM.

Any questions?

>> How far back do you support the-

>> What do you mean?

So right now we targeted the . spec, but you can add support for the  spec as well.

>> And are you going to forward with xAPI and

support for all the-

>> There’s no plans for this XBlock to do xAPI. That would be a separate XBlock.

I also forgot to mention, I wanted to just have a shout out to raccoon gang, are they in the room? They’re not here? Okay, so they built the original SCORM XBlock, on which we built this XBlock. So we added some additional functionality. And also to Brian Wilson, who’s the developer who worked on this XBlock, and to the New York Institute of Finance, who helped fund these initial efforts. So I forgot to say thanks.



>> Okay, thank you.

>> [APPLAUSE] >> Hello, folks.

>> So this bring back memories, I was faculty member at University of Michigan for  years and it’s really nice to get to do this again. So we’ll see if I can keep it short. So extension engine, the faculty aren’t real good at that. Extension engine you’ve heard that that’s what we do. Custom learning experiences think about custom learning experiences, they’re custom, they’re for someone, they don’t want us to share it. We’re very proud of our user interface team. We’re very proud of the learning experience design team.

But we can’t really generally show the works. So what we did was we turned them loose and said, design a site for us. So that’s what this is gonna be about. When we do a custom learning experience we do all sorts of different things potentially for the client. Add features that aren’t built into Open edX, could be a different interface tool and I’ll show you one of those in just a minute. Change the look and the feel beyond what is sort of done just by simple theming. Add adaptive learning, we’ve done that before by sort of screwing Newton into the backend. Implement a pedagogy, we did that for MIT recently and connected to the existing technology site.

We don’t just sorta say here, here’s the course, good luck. So What I’m gonna do now is talk you through a movie I made showing this new site that we just finished this morning.

So [LAUGH] actually, finished would be a sort of really overstepping bounds. So the design here is for our use. If you think it’s ugly, remember we wouldn’t do it for for you if you’re paying us, right? So just cuz you don’t like it doesn’t mean we would have done it for you because we liked it, we do what our client likes.

If it was for you it would look different, act different and be organized differently. So it’s meant to demonstrate the kinds of things that we do. So here this is a homepage for the site. Search is a big thing on this site. You wanna be able to search through the courses. There’s the course we developed for Johnson & Johnson and then rise of the Superheros. I’ve mentioned that before and I will do it again. We created that for the Smithsonian. And the class we are going to go through today which is working with wire frames.

Gonna go there. Now there’s this big graphic, sort of draws you in. The point of this is to sell the course to whomever isn’t enrolled yet. So it tells about what the course is about, what the objectives are, who’s teaching it. You see the big green buttons. Signing in, enrolling. So, that’s the point of this page, right? We made sure that the point is really obvious. I need to sign in. So, I’m going to sign in, simple, little login form comes up, I enter my information.

Now, my enrolled courses, shockingly, guess what’s there? Superheroes, as well as this wire frame course. Now the interesting stuff is on the recommended column over there at the side. That would be where we hook it in to your HR system or your student information system. It might be the classes that they need to take for their certificate or for their major or because their performance review was bad, whatever it might be. Okay, so here’s the basic landing page for the course, again, it’s fairly straight forward there.

The interesting stuff is here. Notice that down the side here, is a, many sub level [INAUDIBLE], what’s that word? Okay so you can have as many sub levels as you want in the menu system. We got rid of the menu across the top. That little drag bar? That sort of drove me crazy.

I do not like that thing. I’m sorry edX people everywhere. So we integrated that here. So you don’t have anything up top you can have as many sub levels as you want here and then this is your basic course content here. Now this is where we have a X block that we developed for dragging and dropping from a set of options to however many boxes that you want.

This is four, it could be two, it could be eight it could be whatever. This is either tied into a grading system or not tied into a grading system. If it is, it doesn’t give you any hints. If it’s not tied into the grading system, then it can give you hints. And it’ll tell you when you’ve made a wrong choice, it’ll tell you when you’ve made a right choice, etc. And we just created this just sort of for the heck of it.

So that’s it. The idea here is that, again these are the kinds of things that we do. So it’s not just a standard edX instance that we happen to charge a bunch of money for. We actually try to do a bunch of work and provide value for the people who are actually our customers. So now, your to do’s, come by talk to either me or Bob, our founder, at my table.

I would love to talk to you about your courses, what projects you have. Give me your card if you want me to follow up. Tomorrow at four o’clock Jared is, he is our head ID person, giving a talk on blended project based learning. Gives you an example of what we actually did for someone.

SCORM XBlock: Getting SCORM content into Open edX from Appsembler

Open edX and Interoperability : Making Open edX play nicely with others

Interoperability was a popular topic at the conference this year. As companies and organizations are adopting Open edX as an integral part of their online learning strategy, it’s becoming increasingly important to integrate Open edX into existing IT systems to reduce friction, increase adoption and aggregate data from Open edX into systems that companies are already using to monitor their learner’s activities.

Open edX & Interoperability: Making Open edX play nicely with others from Appsembler

Open edX for Corporate Learning

I was fortunate to assemble a great lineup of panelists for the corporate learning panel. These are all leaders in the corporate learning space and are pushing Open edX to the next level with innovative additions to the platform.

Open edX for Corporate Learning – Open edX Conference 2016 from Appsembler

After the corporate learning panel discussion, we continued the conversation at a Birds of a Feather session which was very well attended. There was a universal consensus that the needs of corporate are very different from academia, and the corporate users of Open edX need their own channel to discuss their challenges and triumphs. So as a result of that meeting, we set up a Slack channel, a mailing list and a wiki page for Open edX for Corporate Learning.

Our hope is that the wiki page will be populated with an “inventory” of enhancements, integrations and add-ons that corporations have made to the Open edX platform, so that we can identify gaps that need to be addressed and join forces with each other to close those gaps.


Our favorite talks

I was so busy running around during the conference, that I didn’t get to attend very many talks (that’s what Youtube is for right!?), but there were a few that really stood out that I want to highlight.

If you want to see the full list of talks, they’re on the site, the videos are going up on the Open edX Youtube channel, and this wiki page has a list of all the talks and links to the slides and corresponding videos.

See you in Madrid!

Next year, the conference will be in Madrid! We’re very excited as it will make it more feasible for our European teammates to attend, and it will also mean that organizations in Europe who are using Open edX, who couldn’t justify coming all the way to Stanford this year, will be able to come next year.