Yesterday morning I met with UMW Computer Science professors Karen Anewalt and Stephen Davies to discuss possible platforms for an online course they are offering high school students in Virginia. In particular, they were wondering about the open source platform EdX runs on. I had no experience with the platform, and told them I’d take a look at what was involved in setting up a sandbox.
I have to admit I wasn’t so sure I would be able to do this easily, which is probably the feeling that drives most EdTech shops to say no to stuff like this out-of-hand. At the same time, DTLT has always had success remaining open to alternatives (not to mention it makes what we do fun). In fact, it’s kinda who we are; our narrative is based on the idea there’s more in heaven and earth, Horatio, than you can dream of in the learning management system. So, even if we couldn’t get an instance of EdX software up and running in our externally hosted LAMP environment, I was pretty sure I could reach out to my network and find someone who had an instance up and running that we could get access to.
Turns out I didn’t have to go either route because I work with Timmmmy Wonder. I consulted with Tim about EdX and he checked out their GitHub configuration page and realized there was an instance of EdX available as a community AMI ( or Amazon Machine Image) on the Amazon cloud service EC2. Within minutes Tim configured and installed a test instance of EdX’s open source platform and mapped it onto a domain that our faculty could access within half-an-hour of our meeting. Wow, I thought script installers for web hosting were easy eight years ago.
So, we’ll run that instance for a few days and let the faculty explore the application. When they’re done we’ll shut it down—all at the price of a few dollars. How crazy is that? It works equally well for DTLT, UMW’s IT department, and the faculty because we can all get a sense of this application without dedicating too much time to a pilot install. That may ultimately happen if there’s interest, but for the time being an instance on Amazon EC2 is more than enough.
That’s agile EdTech. Don’t default to no when faculty come to you with alternatives. Provide quick and cheap possibilities to explore what’s available. Spend more time talking about how they’ll use it rather then worrying about the technical requirements. That will all come in time if the application makes sense for what they are trying to do. I am amazed how much this process seems like the next level of the web hosting experiment DTLT did back in 2004/2005.