The George Washington University is private research university located in Washington, D.C. Chartered by an Act of Congress on February 9, 1821, today GW has over 26,000 undergraduate and graduate students. It has an endowment of over $1.6 billion.
Shortly after the launch of Open edX, GW decided to become one of the first universities ever to deploy its own custom education initiative online using the Open edX platform. By using Open edX GW would be able to host their own platform and maintain root-level access to the servers — an impossibility with other online education program providers. Moreover, GW wanted the ability to maintain ownership of its course data and to extend the platform as necessary. The school was particularly interested in adding badges to courses to apply a gamification element in order to increase student engagement with the course material. They also wanted to implement ecommerce functionality so that they could charge for enrollment in a course, a feature that at the time Open edX did not support.
The idea behind GW’s first online courseware was conceived by Professor Lorena Barba of the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering department, who championed the benefits of “open education” and collaboration between students and professors. She wanted a platform through which she could research an open educational model based on strong collaboration and a tight feedback loop between students and professors, which would be enforced through GitHub, the conventional collaboration platform for software engineers. Skeptical of the focus on video in online learning, she wanted to explore a model for engineering education based on IPython or Jupyter Notebooks, which students would be able to use as a starting point to develop an understanding of the material. This approach naturally varied from the videos-first and assignments-and-homework-second philosophy that is so prevalent in online and in-person education today.
And though it was not GW’s first priority, the ability to market itself as an innovator in online learning — not for the first time, as the well-known Blackboard platform originated from GW — would reaffirm the institution as a leader in online education.
Naturally GW needed a partner with the experience and technical expertise to fulfill its ambitions. As one of the first third-party Open edX providers, IBL was uniquely qualified to help GW deploy its new online platform. The first provider to offer Insights Analytics, IBL developed a customized analytics module for GW through which faculty could track additional performance data about individual students and courses as a whole. And in order to add the gamification element that GW was looking for, IBL became the first provider to develop badges on Open edX, which utilized a dedicated server and a personalized XBlock. On top of that, IBL added ecommerce functionality through PayPal long before Open edX featured ecommerce support natively.
Within a few weeks of enlisting IBL’s services, Professor Lorena Barba was able to launch her “Practical Numerical Methods with Python” and attract over 7,000 enrollments to GW’s independent Open edX platform. The course was relaunced the following year adapted by Université Libre de Bruxelles physics professor Bernard Knaepen. GW then launched two more courses in Engineering and nine more for the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. Open edX, through IBL’s development efforts and continuous technical support, provided Barba with an opportunity to innovate in online education at a time when very few instructors were able to consider the potential of alternative education models and independent development of courseware. Several weeks after the initial deployment of GW’s Open edX platform, IBL and GW launched the Open edX Universities Symposium, celebrated on November 11, 2015 at the George Washington University in Washingtion, D.C. featuring Kenneth Koedinger, Barbara Oakley and Charles Severance.
Would you like to learn more about IBL’s software deployment services? Contact us and let us know how we can help!