The LabXchange team, led by MCB Professor of the Practice and Faculty Director of the Harvard Ed Portal Robert Lue, has been awarded the inaugural Open edX Technical Project Prize in recognition of their work developing the platform.
“This is a huge and well-deserved honor for Rob and the LabXchange team,” says MCB Chair Sean Eddy. “It’s a bit of a silver lining that LabXchange is already so far along in its pioneering vision, just as the pandemic forced schools and universities to scramble to find new ways to deliver excellent remote instruction.”
The award citation focused on Blockstore, a system for storing content that allows learners and educators to customize courses and explore content modules. Blockstore, developed in conjunction with OpenCraft, replaced a more rigid system for organizing content. “We contributed an entirely new content repository architecture called Blockstore that allows flexible deployment of learning assets that lays the foundation for personalized learning and teaching online,” Lue explains.
The award citation also mentioned the LabXchange team’s work on a tool that makes it easier for educators to create assessments on Open edX sites. These technical innovations will allow educators and learners around the world to tailor their experience on edX platforms.
“Because Open edX is the largest open source online learning platform in the world, making a significant contribution to the software architecture of the platform is potentially transformative for a very large number of institutions and their learners,” Lue says. “Receiving the award affirms the broad impact that we hoped to achieve by working with and contributing back to such a large open source effort.”
LabXchange Managing Director Gaurav Vazirani points out that the EdX platform grew out of work initially done at Harvard and MIT. “Based on that initial work, a whole community of practitioners formed and added to that code base and shaped and morphed it into something far greater than what Harvard or MIT could have envisioned,” Vazirani says. “Being able to build on the work of that whole community and make another contribution from Harvard that moves this project to the next level feels both like being a part of something new and going full circle again.”
LabXchange officially launched as a personalized learning platform providing content modules for classrooms and virtual learners in January this year, shortly before the COVID-19 crisis arrived in the U.S.
“We spent the last four months of 2019 with around 1500 user testers before we launched in late January,” Lue says. “In the six months since launch we now have over 700,000 users, so to say that interest has been strong is not an understatement.”
Vazirani adds that many members of the LabXchange team have pivoted to developing tools and content to support teachers and parents who are learning to teach remotely or homeschool their children on the fly.
The LabXchange team is delighted to receive the award and hopeful that it will encourage further development on the Open edX platform. “LabXchange is and will continue to be a collective effort with many collaborator organizations around the world,” Lue says. “That being said, we are also a collective effort within MCB with involvement from MCO graduate students and undergraduate concentrators working with us on media and content development. The platform is now being explored for possible use this fall in several Harvard classes and we look forward to working more closely with folks closer to home as we expand our reach outside.”