UBC edX partnership: September 2014 update

By Gregor Kiczales posted on September 8th, 2014

While edX is best known as a MOOC platform, it is much more than that – it is a community of universities and a non-profit jointly “committed to research that will allow us to understand how students learn, how technology can transform learning, and the ways teachers teach on campus and beyond.” UBC joins edX as a Charter Member and as a contributor to edX will join the University Advisory Board that serves as the chief advisory body to edX.


For UBC, edX builds on and supports our longstanding commitment to innovation and research in learning through programs like TLEF, the Carl Weiman Science Education Initiative, and Flexible Learning. We intend edX to support and magnify our work on campus in several ways:

  • EdX provides UBC an excellent technical platform as well as marketing support for UBC’s continued focused investment in MOOCs. We will be releasing four new UBCx MOOCs over the next few months, and intend to continue to produce a similar number of MOOCs each year. In addition some of our earlier MOOCs may be moved from Coursera to edX.
  • edX will also provide us with a new platform and collection of tools that we can use to support blended and online courses for our existing students. Because edX is a new and open source platform, it has many features that should make it attractive to faculty looking to work with new technology to support blended learning. The edX platform is cleaner and lighter weight than older platforms. It nonetheless includes many common content and assessment types (multiple choice, hotspot, peer, math and chemical equations, LaTeX and others.). It is also more easily extensible, and other universities are contributing extensions for everyone else to use. Some interesting extensions include a tool that allows students to draw and simulate simple circuits, a molecule editor and a protein editor.
  • edX will provide us with an opportunity to leverage our investment in learning technology development. Because edX is an open source platform, the contributions we and other universities make are all shared. EdX is investing considerable resources in developing a vibrant open source community around the platform.
  • edX will connect us with peers who are interested in research on the effects of using technology in blended learning as well as tools to support that research. The twice yearly edX Global Forum is one vehicle for sharing this work, there are also smaller workshops as well as papers published in other fora. The technology includes support for built in analytics, access to raw data, A/B testing of interventions, adaptive content selection, and more.

We are looking for faculty members (TLEF funded and otherwise) who would like to learn more about edX and decide whether it has capabilities that fit their needs. We anticipate that different courses will use the edX platform in different ways. Some may choose to put all or nearly all of their online content on edX. Some may put only part of their content on edX and continue to use Connect, WordPress or other platforms for the rest of the course. Some may use only one or two elements of edX functionality and incorporate that into their Connect courses.

It is worth noting that edX is not a learning management system (LMS): it lacks some of the core functionality that LMSs have, so it is not intended to replace Connect. Certainly not in the near term and possibly not ever. Instead our intention  is to add edX to an evolving ecosystem of learning technology platforms, tools and applications on campus.

We are putting together a team that can support projects using edX, centred in CTLT and incorporating Faculty-based expertise where appropriate. We expect to work closely with a limited number of projects over the next 11 months with the goal of developing a solid core of UBC faculty using edX – to varying degrees – by September 2015.

The UBC edX project lead is Gregor Kiczales, and faculty use of the platform is supported through CTLT and UBC IT.  Please contact Gregor if you would like to learn more about the edX project, the edX platform, talk about using edX in your course, or just get an account to play around with it.