On Wednesday, November 18, IBL Studios Education, George Washington University, Indiana University and Achievery.com presented the Open Badges XBlock at the 2014 Open edX conference at Harvard University.

These badges –also called micro-credentials– are digital tokens that recognize and verify achievements at any point in time. As our partner, Achievery.com, explains, these digital credentials “recognize proof of a discrete skill or a more significant achievement like a diploma”.  “Enabling professors to issue Open Badges solves one of the challenges facing MOOCs in that students in large online course are accessing the educational content in different ways. The majority doesn’t complete a course and receive a completion certificate, but many pick up relevant skills and experiences along the way. Issuing Open Badges allows professors to see ongoing levels of engagement and provide independent learners proof and evidence of their accomplishments”.

The integration of these badges is powered by the Achievery API and an XBlock and Python client developed by IBL Studios Education and George Washington University, with support from Indiana University Professors Daniel Hickey and James Willis and the MacArthur Foundation. These first Open Badges will be awarded to students on Professor Lorena Barba’s MOOC, “Practical Numerical Methods with Python”. The badges will be issued upon successful completion of graded modules and may contain student links providing evidence of their learning such as through their Github repositories.

Below is a document, prepared by Lorena Barba and Michael Amigot, that explains how the Open Badges XBlock works.

This XBlock will be open sourced by the end of the year, once George Washington University uses it and it is fully tested. More badge providers will be included.

The software was unveiled during a real-time demo session at the Open edX Conference.


As a result of this success, edX decided to create the Open badges satellite group in order continue the development of this software.

The CEO of edX, Anant Agarwal, enthusiastically supported this group and promised full support. In fact, he revealed that he started to use badges in his online courses calling these credentials “micro-karmas”. (Below in the picture, Lorena Barba, James Willis, Anant Agarwal, Michael Amigot and Daniel Hickey).




edx conference

The first Open edX conference in Cambridge, MA, brought together around 250 specialists on the edX technology and pedagogy.

Great keynotes speeches, breakout sessions, networking, a hackathon and social events. As our friend Ramón Talavera explained in his blog, “this conference was a blast”.

Many presentations were live streamed –and here are the videos–. Tweets can be found at #openedxcon and @OpenedX.

Below is an image with many of the Open edX projects. We, at IBL Studios Education, presented three platforms during the Demo Table sessions: ING Open edX (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile), ISEADX Business School and LECTYA – FGSR. In addition, we demoed the first Open Badges XBlock developed by our engineering team.



President Obama announced last week that edX has joined ConnectED, the White House’s initiative to empower teachers to embrace technology and digital learning. As part of this program, edX partner universities and colleges will offer professional development courses for teachers, along with courses to prepare students for AP exams.

  • Courses for teachers include training on using technology in the classroom, learning theory and leadership, along with teaching in a blended format. Teachers will be able to earn verified certificates upon successful course completions.
  • Students in high-need and in rural schools around the country will be able to earn free verified certificates in any of the more than 40 courses and modules edX university partners are developing as preparation for the AP exams.

All courses, developed by the nation’s best colleges and universities, will be open for registration on edx.org within the next 12 months.

EdX partners participating in the ConnectED initiative include:

Teacher Professional Development:

  • Boston University
  • Davidson College
  • Georgetown University
  • Harvard University
  • MIT
  • Rice University
  • Teachers College, Columbia University
  • University of Texas Arlington
  • University of Texas Austin
  • University of Texas System

Courses to Prepare for AP Exams:

  • Boston University
  • Cooper Union
  • Davidson College
  • Georgetown University
  • MIT
  • Tennessee Board of Regents
  • Rice University
  • UC Berkeley
  • Universidad Carlos III de Madrid


An innovative Open edX extension that integrates digital badges into MOOCs will be presented this Wednesday on Harvard University’s campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, during the first Open edX conference.

It will be an XBlock developed by IBL Studios Education and George Washington University (GWU), with the support of University of Indiana, edX and Achievery.com.

GWU’s Professor Lorena Barba, who provided a conceptual design and iterative refinements for this app, has prepared a set of slides explaining the development.

The badge solution will work initially with the Achievery.com badge hosting service. This Rhode Island-based company has developed an API that IBL’s engineering team has integrated into a Python client and connected to the Open edX platform.

The first institution to integrate this solution will be George Washington University through its Open edX platform.

Students of the “Practical Numerical Methods with Python” course will be the first ones benefiting from the IBL Open Badge XBlock. Their achievements will be recognized through badges that will be automatically issued when their grading scores on each lesson surpass 50 percent or any other percentage set by the instructor.


Coursera, the leading education platform that in less than three years has reached 10 million students and raised $85 million in venture capital, is being successful with its “Signature Track” service –which securely links coursework to real identity via a verified certificate priced between $30 and $100.

  • Around 70 % of the upcoming courses have this option enabled.
  • Verified Certificate is becoming the only option for acknowledgement of course completion, despite protests by many students.
  • At present Coursera is receiving more than $1 million per month in revenues from verified certificates.

(edSurge wrote recently an interesting report titled How Does Coursera Make Money)


The edX Engineering blog features George Washington University‘s Professor Lorena A. Barba, who has developed the second independent, non-edX Consortium Open edX university instance (after Stanford’s).

The interview is a must-read.

As Open edX consultants, at IBL we are asked many times how it is possible to create engaging learning sequences. I advise to take Lorena’s Numerical Methods with Python’s MOOC in order to get a glimpse. See what her secret recipe is.

(Disclosure: IBL Studios Education is providing professional services and technical support at GW Online)

“As course instructor and designer at the same time, my focus has been creating a map, a guided tour for the course participants to navigate the course content and learning pathways. The core content, itself, resides outside the Open edX platform, in fact—it’s on GitHub. We also use the Open edX discussion forum and graded assignments, so the platform is more for providing interaction than content. My focus is learning together. I am learning as intensely as the top participants in the course. We use Open edX as an object of connection”.

(Disclosure: IBL Studios Education is providing professional services and technical support at GW Online)


EdX has decided to create a series of named releases of the Open edX codebase as a way to capture code at stable points in time which is ready for production after it has been battle-tested. In addition, by using names, it is easier to identify installations and therefore share knowledge within the community.

Well, the first instance, released on October 29th, is called Aspen. Its codebase –which “was frozen at a stable point in time (mid-September 2014)”, according to the edX engineering blog–will not change even as the developer community continues to improve the code. “All releases will receive extensive testing both from edX, which will use the release to support millions of users, as well as by organizations within the Open edX community, where the release will have been run and tested in many different configurations”, edX said.

The next release, named Birch, will arrive “in a few months”. The third one will be “Cypress”.


On the other hand, there has been some significant code enhancements in the edX community in the last days:

  • edX has redesigned the e-commerce functionality allowing organizations to purchase many seats in a course for its employees/members and then to distribute the codes for redemption. How does it work? When more than one seat is purchased, ‘registration codes’ as generated and downloaded as CSV files.
  • Another enhancement in the platform is the new auto-signup/enrollment functionality.An administrator or staff member can create new accounts and enroll students in a course simply by uploading a CSV file which contains a list of students (with the following columns: email, username, full name, country…).
  • The edX analytics pipeline has been open sourced along with the course analytics dashboard. The analytics pipeline consists of several repos.


All of these issues will be discussed in the Open edX November 18-19 conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This gathering will be followed by a two-day hackathon at edX’s headquarters in Cambridge.


We will soon see how MOOCs become part of high school and K12 education as a whole.

Marketplace.org has launched this interesting audio report:

We recently mentioned the start of the edX High-School initiative (IBL Studios is producing two video MOOCs for Cooper Union). It was one of the first signals that MOOCs are not just geared toward college students and adult learners anymore.

  • Consider MOOCs as a supplement for kids who are motivated or don’t have access to quality education.
  • Think how useful MOOCs can be to figure out what our kids want to study in college.
  • Realize that lot of high schools cannot afford a rich set of AP courses in subjects like physics, chemistry and other sciences. At edX, many courses are taught by top professors from MIT and Berkeley.
  • Include completed MOOCs in the extracurriculars’ section on college or job applications (this might have a huge impact in the result).
  • Courses developed by subject experts from grade 1 to grade 12 will benefit thousand of schools nationwide.

The newest version of the edX platform –the October 7th release– introduces private discussion cohorts. This feature allows to create smaller communities of students who communicate and share experiences privately within the larger, course-wide community.

In addition, the CSV file that contains student profile data includes a Cohort column (as long as the cohorts feature is enabled).

Another announcement came from the Engineering blog. The edX-specific version of eXtensible Markup Language (XML) used as a content format has been renamed Open Learning XML (OLX), while an alpha version of documentation has been issued.

edx 300Whether you enjoy learning, investing in your career or preparing for college, you should take a look at the edx.org course offering: 300 free courses, most of them created by top universities.

In the last three months, edX has launched over 100 courses, many of the them inside the High School Initiative (disclosure: IBL is filming two of them, for the Cooper Union). The 300th course was announced last week.

Congratulations edX!