Glen Moriarty talks about empowering open education with NIXTY, part 3

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In part 1 of our interview with Glen Moriarty, CEO of NIXTY, he talked about the importance of open education. In part 2, he addressed the community's involvement and NIXTY's challenges. We have just one question left:

How do you see NIXTY empowering open education?

We see our role as providing a form of infrastructure and assessment for the open education movement. We are members of the OCW Consortium and have consulted with several OCW publishers and experts. The problems that we think we can help solve include:


The first issue that comes up is the need for an easy way for people to publish, interact with, and modify OER. NIXTY provides a very easy way to distribute, reuse, and remix open educational resources. For example, compare these two versions of this course:

· On MIT's site

· The same course in NIXTY

A few differences illustrate the infrastructure that NIXTY provides:

- Everything is streamlined. Users can watch a video, read an embedded PDF, engage in a discussion board (w/reputation points voted up or down), take a test, get results, and see how they performed.

- Users can track progress. Each lesson is broken down into increments. Every time a user completes a step, it shows them how much they have completed and what they have left to do.

- Certificate of Completion. Users can print up a certificate showing competency on completion of the course.

- WikiCourse capability. Think Wikipedia + courses—others can add lessons and content to established lessons (discussion posts, HTML, video, documents, etc.). This provides scaffolding around the open education material. In two weeks, users will also be able to add tests and test questions to the courses. See a screencast of WikiCourses.

It is important to note that we are not yet common cartridge compliant. Our goal is to allow importing and exporting of common cartridges in early 2011.


Impact is the second issue that frequently comes up in open education circles. It is also a problem that we think we can help solve. OpenCourseWare publishers have three main goals: access, use, and impact. Access and use are being assessed and measured; impact is more challenging to capture. We feel like NIXTY can help solve the problem of measuring impact. How?

First, we can begin to look at the exemplary work of Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative. Candice Thille and other researchers have done a phenomenal job of creating OCWs that are empirically based. Students work through the materials and take assessments. Researchers then gather the data on learning outcomes (e.g., this statistics learning module has resulted in increasing student learning by 15%). Why is this important? Two main reasons: 1. It increases student learning in a measurable way; 2. It decreases faculty time because they can point to modules that have shown to increase student learning (e.g., faculty help students meet their course objectives without increasing their time commitment to each student). One challenge with the Open Learning Initiative courses is that they can be expensive to create.

Is there a way to get similar results in a less costly manner?

We think so. WikiCourses may be an additional way to measure impact around open courses. How would this work? First, create open courses in a way that allows them to be easily accessed and interactive. Check. Second, convert open courses into WikiCourses. We’ll do this in the next several days. Third, begin to build pre and post-tests around open courses and around learning modules within open courses. Fourth, begin to gather data around learning modules and courses, so that faculty can point to these courses to increase student learning and save time.

Will this work? It is too early to tell at this point. We have some models for this (e.g., Wikipedia), but need more research to see if it translates to courses. Some may argue that the process of agreeing on learning objectives and outcomes cannot be done by an open education community. We think it can, and we are in the process of iterating towards making it a reality.

Watch an open educated focused overview of NIXTY.

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Mary Ann Bitter is a Creative Strategist for Red Hat's Marketing Communications & Design team. She lives at the intersection of business and design and believes the open source values have never been more relevant than they are today.  She is passionate about problem solving and working with people who give a damn.

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