Monday, July 26, 2010

Online Course Construction Gets a 'Do-It-Yourself' Web Site; Chronicle of Higher Education, 7/23/10

Sophia Li, Chronicle of Higher Education; Online Course Construction Gets a 'Do-It-Yourself' Web Site:

"A new player entered the field of open online education last week: Nixty, a Web site that allows any user to take and create courses for free.

The new learning platform started up with over 200 course offerings culled from open-source content already available online, such as courses from the Khan Academy and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's OpenCourseWare Project. Nixty's users have begun developing about 120 new courses since its launch, said Glen Moriarty, the company's chief executive.

Nixty comes with all the trappings of most course-management systems: a grade book, testing, discussion boards. Mr. Moriarty used to head and is still in the leadership team at Scholar360, which develops course-management software. But right now, Nixty is meant to help make educational content free, open, and easy to access.

Other sites exist that put together the open-source educational materials available, said David Wiley, an associate professor of instructional psychology and technology at Brigham Young University. (Mr. Wiley, who founded Utah's Open High School, has been a guest blogger on Wired Campus.) Nixty is unique, though, in also offering ways for students and instructors to connect with one another, he said.

Students can ask other users questions, and instructors can collaborate to improve their teaching materials, Mr. Moriarty said.

But Nixty's current features are only the beginning of what its creators have planned, according to Mr. Moriarty.

In the next month, the five-person team behind Nixty plans to roll out a payment system for courses, Mr. Moriarty said. Instructors will be able to charge students who want to enroll in their courses, but Nixty will charge instructors $4.99 a month for three such courses and a commission of 20 percent of the money instructors take in.

Mr. Moriarty hopes to establish partnerships with several online institutions, including Excelsior College and Western Governors University, and he thinks Nixty will be a way for institutions to offer continuing-education courses online, he said. He also envisions Nixty helping students to earn course credit through the College-Level Examination Program.

So far, public activity on the site is minimal. According to Mr. Moriarty, none of the 120-odd courses users are developing on Nixty have gone public yet. In Nixty's nascent stages, it's hard to say if it will live up to its founders' dreams—but that's not to say their hopes aren't lofty.

"Google is the default search engine," Mr. Moriarty said. "We want Nixty to be the default educational engine.""

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