The Open edX Conference kicks off tomorrow, and among the many talented developers and innovators we’re hosting, Nate Aune, founder and CEO of Appsembler, will be joining us to talk about his work with Open edX. Read on for more background on Nate and Appsembler.
How does working with Open edX relate to Appsembler’s mission?
Our mission is to empower organizations and individuals with open source technology to further their educational goals, whether that is an organization delivering online courses to learners or a student who wants to learn more about programming using open source technologies. Open edX is a perfect fit for us because it’s a powerful online learning platform and it’s open source, which means we can open it up and see how it works, and customize it for our needs and our customers’ needs.
How did you first hear about the Open edX initiative?
I heard about Open edX at the Boston Python meetup, and later joined the organization as a consultant and got to know many in the edX engineering team. It was exciting to be working there when the organization was making the transition from edX as an internal project to open sourcing the codebase to the world. Opening the kimono can be a scary thing, but edX made the June date and continues to release early and release often.
How long have you been working with the Open edX platform? What’s been your focus?
Since April of last year (2013). Initially I worked very closely with Stanford and friends to identify gaps in the open source community and come up with a list of recommendations. The outcome of that work was a report I wrote, “Making Open edX a Thriving Open Source Project,” which was published by Stanford and well-received by edX. You can read Beth Porter’s statement online.
One of the things that came out of that report was a need for more hosting options for Open edX. So I’ve been working very hard to build a scalable hosting solution for Open edX, one that provides turnkey sites in the SaaS model. You can see it on their website.
Additionally, I’ve been working with a lot of organizations to help them make the most of Open edX, and customizing Open edX to meet their particular needs. My team built the Staff Graded Assignment Xblock for MIT, and is now working on a new ambitious project called Personal Online Courses,* also for MIT. We also built the JSDraw Xblock for Davidson College, and did the initial development for edX.org to post your certificates to your LinkedIn profile. Our latest project is in the corporate sector, building out features for edX that businesses need, like through-the-web creation of microsites, integrating SCORM packages with edX, role-based learning paths, and integration with other back-end systems.
What will you be discussing at Open edX Con?
I’m giving a lightning talk about how we’re using Docker to launch Open edX sites quickly and inexpensively, and how the use of Docker images as a packaging format could make it easier for people to share their own Open edX distributions.
What are some other projects you’ve worked on with Open edX or in the EdTech industry?
Another project that I’ve been working on for the last few years is Mediathread, which is a really cool media analysis platform that is for instructors who want to teach with multimedia materials. It basically lets instructors and students pull media assets from around the web and annotate them in a shared collaborative space. For more information, see http://getmediathread.com.
What other topics are you interested in hearing about or talking with your fellow Open edX developers about?
I think the field of learning analytics is fascinating, basically how can we use technology to improve learning outcomes. I’m really interested in creating an edX course to teach others how to build, deploy and scale the Open edX platform. And as always, I’m very interested in seeing the open source community grow and mature, and be more welcoming to newcomers.
What inspired you and what keeps you inspired to work in the EdTech space?
It’s an exciting time to be in EdTech because the technology is really maturing and able to make an impact, especially in countries where there aren’t as many educational opportunities. But I think we’re still in the early days, so there are a lot of opportunities to improve accessibility and really transform the educational experience from something that is mostly passive to an engaging, collaborative, and interactive experience.
*Since publication, “Personal Online Courses” have been rebranded as “Custom Courses” or “CCX.” -Ed. 4/1/2016