With Open Platform, Stanford Seeks to Reclaim MOOC Brand - Technology - The Chronicle of Higher Education
"In the MOOC marketplace, however, Coursera's brand is by far the better known. Ask anyone about providers of massive open online courses, and Coursera's name comes up, along with that of Udacity, another local company with strong Stanford ties, long before the university's—even though Coursera is only two years old, and some of the courses it offers are taught by Stanford professors. Now Stanford is looking to reclaim some leadership in the MOOC movement from the private companies down the street. For some of its offerings it has started using Open edX, the open-source platform developed by edX, an East Coast nonprofit provider of MOOCs. And Stanford is marshaling its resources and brainpower to improve its own online infrastructure. In doing so, the university is putting its weight behind an open-source alternative that could help others develop MOOCs independently of proprietary companies. Why? There are people who are uncomfortable for a range of reasons,' says Jane Manning, director of platforms for Stanford Online, the university's new online-learning arm. 'They've seen what happened on the research side of the house with the academic publishers, where academic publishers ended up having a lot of pricing power' ... The rapid growth of the MOOC companies, both in student volume and in the public imagination, has proved that you don't need stately buildings and seductive landscaping to become a destination for students seeking elite higher education. Coursera's offices may be unremarkable, but its online portal is wildly popular—not least because of the big-name universities that have decided to offer MOOCs on the company's platform rather than trying to build their own. With its online trailblazers having left the faculty ranks to become entrepreneurs, Stanford is now playing catch-up. The Office of the Vice Provost for Online Learning was created in summer 2012 by John Hennessey, Stanford's president, at the height of what The New York Timeslater dubbed 'the year of the MOOC.' Mr. Hennessey appointed John Mitchell, a computer-science professor, to lead the office. It now counts platform engineers, course designers, data researchers, and media producers among its 25 team members. It also oversees a research arm called the Lytics Lab—a collective of doctoral students and postdocs who analyze the enormous amounts of data generated by Stanford's online courses. Stanford's investment in Open edX is not just about MOOCs; the university is also using the platform for the online components of 33 courses on campus this fall. But where massive courses are concerned, the university still lags behind Coursera, even among its own professors. Stanford lists only four MOOCs being taught on its version of the Open edX platform this fall, next to 10 on Coursera. And although Stanford's non-Coursera MOOCs have each drawn tens of thousands of registrants—32,000 in 'Writing in the Sciences,' 21,000 in 'Statistics in Medicine,' 41,000 in 'How to Learn Math'—the university has relied on the mailing lists for courses it has offered through Coursera for recruiting, says Ms. Manning. In fact, she says, the move to edX's open-source platform from Class2Go, an earlier platform developed by Stanford, was motivated in part by the university's need to hitch its wagon to a more recognizable brand to compete with Coursera's cachet ..."