Class2Go launches new massive open online courses

Oct. 4, 2012, 10:55 p.m.

Class2Go, a new massive open online course (MOOC) platform developed by a Stanford team, is joining the more established Coursera and Udacity platforms to offer a total of 16 courses this fall.

Jane Manning and Sef Kloninger ‘93, staff members in the new Office of the Vice Provost for Online Learning (VPOL), and a team of six engineers from Stanford’s Computer Science Department began working on Class2Go in July and built the platform in 11 weeks.

The team developed the Class2Go model when they noticed that students wanted to download course videos, rather than stream them online.

“At first, we just wanted to make it easy to download the videos,” Manning said. “Then we started to think about how we could develop a platform where we could learn about learning,”

The result was a Stanford platform that is open-source, portable and interoperable. By designing Class2Go for both teaching and research, the team hopes to leverage data to improve the efficacy of the online and offline lessons.

Class2Go’s early dedication to open-source is perhaps its biggest differentiator from other platforms. It is free of cost, and collaborators are also welcome to contribute to Class2Go’s code.

“Any gatekeeper to the features set is…a problem for learning. We want to be open now so that others can contribute and help,” Manning said.

As a result, Class2Go has already attracted over half a dozen collaborators, ranging from community colleges to overseas learning programs for middle school students.

“If someone wants to make a clone of our platform, run it at their own university and build some crazy features that they never would be able to convince us to build, we all benefit,” Kloninger said.

Portability means that Class2Go does not capture materials in a proprietary database. Its videos are available outside of its system on YouTube, and its quizzes are Khan Academy exercises.

“Our goal was to create an easy way for people to have online courses and to run them on our platform for now,” Kloninger said. “Eventually, if there is another platform that makes more sense for their materials, the switch will be just as easy.”

In this way, the platform is also interoperable—it relies heavily on other services to run. In addition to Khan Academy and YouTube, Class2Go incorporates Piazza, Python Django, Amazon AWS, Opscode and Github.

Class2Go will go live on Oct. 8, offering two classes: An Introduction to Computer Networks, taught by Nick McKeown and Philip Levis; and Solar Cells, Fuel Cells, & Batteries, taught by Bruce Clemens M.S. ‘71.

“We’ll learn from [the classes] and make it better for the next quarter, and then do it again. That’s the way to innovate,” Kloninger said. “Do what your customers want over and over again.”

The Class2Go team is already talking to professors about rolling out new features for the winter quarter.

For McKeown, designing an online class provides an opportunity to improve his own pedagogy.

“The majority of the world doesn’t get access to material like this. For sure, it’s a lot of work, but it’s very exciting to take part in this big experiment,” McKeown said. “We are exploring how to provide a great online learning experience to tens of thousands of students at a time.”

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