Not Captioning Your MOOCs? MIT And Harvard Are Sued For Discriminating Against Deaf Students

Wake-up call for schools who are not offering captions for their MOOC content.

MIT and Harvard University are facing two federal class action lawsuits filed by the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) and four deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, claiming the universities failed to caption a vast array of online content, including MOOCs.

The cases, filed in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts, assert that MIT and Harvard violate the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act by denying deaf and hard of hearing people access to thousands of videos and audio tracks that each university makes publicly available for free.

“This lawsuit is part of our battle for full access to online media content,” explained Howard A. Rosenblum, NAD’s Chief Executive Officer. (Watch above’s video).

The non-captioned content includes campus talks by President Barack Obama and Microsoft founder Bill Gates, educational videos made by MIT students for use by K-12 students, “self-help” talks, entire semesters’-worth of courses and regular podcasts such as the “HBR IdeaCast” by the Harvard Business Review.

With this lawsuit the message to large universities is loud and clear: you should make accommodations for people with disabilities and online course material should be accessible. Entire groups of people cannot be excluded.


EdX Launches the "Birch" Release – A Sneak Peak of Its Features


The Open edX “Birch” release –the second version after “Aspen”– is almost here. It is scheduled to be released in February.

For now, this version is a release candidate.

“Birch” will include many new features, capabilities and APIs, as well as many small changes and bug fixes. edX’s Release Notes provide a cumulative list of changes listed after the release of Aspen, which was based on the version from September 4, 2014.

Here is a summary:

  • Prerequisite courses. You can require that students pass specific edX courses before enrolling into your course.
  • Entrance Exams. You can require that students pass an entrance exam before they access your course materials.
  • Student Notes. Learners can highlight text and take notes while progressing through a course. They can then review their notes either in the body of the course or on a separate “Notes” tab.
  • Course Reruns. You can create a new course easily by re-running an existing course. When you re-run a course, most –but not all– of the original course content will be duplicated onto the new course.
  • Google Calendar and Google Drive Components. You can embed Google calendars and Google Drive files into your course. Learners may see the calendar or file directly in the courseware. Learners can also interact with Google Forms files, and complete forms or surveys in the courseware.
  • Support for “Graded Problems” in “Content Experiments”. You can now use graded problems in content experiments.
  • Split Mongo Modulestore. This refers to the separation of identity, structure and content, and it enables you to use more advanced capabilities while developing and managing courses.
  • Cohorts for Discussions and Content. You can now define smaller communities of students within the larger, course-wide community. Learners in a given cohort may have private discussions.
  • Content libraries and randomized content. You can create a content library that contains a pool of components that can be used in randomized assignments.

How Education Will Look Like in 2020 – Ten Trends

How will  the next five-to-ten years look like in online learning?

Anant Agarwal, president of, made these predictions in the Financial Times –that we have classified and summarized into ten trends:

1. The blended model will become the new norm. By 2020, 50 percent of college courses will combine in-person and online learning; a shift driven by student demand for the convenience and effectiveness of online learning. MIT’s recent report on the future of MIT education was unequivocal in its support of the blended model.

Chip Paucek, chief executive of 2U, says that “universities that do not provide online degrees will be hard-pressed to remain competitive as their peers scale dramatically through the ability to serve students regardless of location. “The lack of an online offering will be unacceptable. “At every school, there will no longer be online or on-campus students. Just students,” Paucek states.

2. MOOCs will help close the skills-gap for employers. Employees will be encouraged to take online courses with self-assessment preparedness tests pertaining to specific skill-sets when hired; or even later to keep up with emerging trends and technologies.

3. Students will become continuous learners, cultivating new skill-sets throughout their careers. There will be several models. For example, year one may be online with two years then spent on-campus. Instead of the traditional final year, students will enter the workforce to gain real-world skills and continue to learn through an annual subscription to their university.

4. Many universities will use MOOCs as a new kind of textbook; including videos, game-like simulations and interactive exercises. For classes, professors will augment public MOOC content with private, in-person experiences. In other words, MOOCs will be the “new age” textbooks.

 5. MOOCs will help prepare students for college. Just as many schools mandate required summer reading prior to freshman year, specific MOOCs with self-assessment preparedness tests may be required from accepted students, thereby ensuring they are prepared when they arrive on campus.

 6. There will be tens of thousands of free MOOCs offering everything, from fine arts to engineering. Students worldwide will have access to virtually any course subject in any language. [Today, and Open edx partners offer more than 1,000 free MOOCs.]

 7. MOOCs will get personal. Learning will offer multiple pathways to navigate courses that fit specific learning styles and speeds. MOOCs will continue tailoring the learning experience to meet the needs of tomorrow’s students, universities and employers.

 8. We will see more badges, such as Mozilla’s Open Badges. Employers increasingly accept certificates for MOOC courses. MOOC platforms are headed in this direction. [IBL has developed, along with GW, Indiana University and, the first badge system for Open edX. This course at GW is the first one issuing badges].

 9. MOOC certificates will transfer into course credits.

 10. Growing institutions, especially in developing nations, will aggregate existing MOOC courses into synthesized degree programs. [Anant refers to this phenomenon as “digital dormitories”.]



An Investor Donates $1 Million to To Support the Creation of 20 AP-Oriented MOOCs and Allow Students Start College For Free


Steven B. Klinsky, 58 a New York professional investor who founded the private equity firm New Mountain Capital, is proposing a way for high school students to take one year of college online for free.

To carry out his vision, he has donated $1 million to edX –the MIT and Harvard University overseen online venture– and has formed a nonprofit group group, the Modern States Education Alliance.

His idea, announced last week through the Washington Post, is to have 20 new edX courses, in addition to an existing 10, that would prepare students to pass Advanced Placement (AP) or College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests so they can be able to take freshman year for free and start in college as sophomores.

Mr. Kinsky’s “Freshman Year for Free” initiative occurs while President Obama is proposing that community college should be free.

By using this funding, edX will add these additional courses to its current suite of AP and introductory college-level courses currently offered on its platform.

  • “These additional courses will ensure that every major subject covered by a College Board Advanced Placement* or CLEP* exam will be offered on Students completing the courses will have an opportunity to pass exams and gain credit from traditional colleges and universities. All courses are planned to launch and be open for registration on within the next 18 months,” edX explains.
  • “These courses will cover important freshman college subjects, ranging from math, science and history courses, to economics, anthropology, philosophy, foreign languages, and English.”
  • “Each course will be developed by edX university partners, and will include quizzes, tests, assessments, online discussion groups and other features.  Texts and materials will also be provided to students free of charge, online.”

For decades, many colleges have offered credit to students for high scores on AP tests. Credits are also available through the College-Level Examination Program, known as CLEP.

Modern States intends to add tutoring, counseling, mentoring and college guidance to its portal over time, and to continuously update and expand the course offerings.

“No one should be shut out of education after high school because of tuition cost or lack of access,” said Steven Klinsky, Modern States’ founder and chairman.  “Modern States’ goal is to create at least one universally available and tuition free path toward high quality education for anyone who seeks it.

Another initiative to make college free came from Shai Reshef, founder of University of the People. His TED talk last summer has been viewed by more than a million people.

EdX Is A Major Disruption In An Industry With Almost No Change In Two Thousand Years, Says Eric Grimson (MIT)


(By Michael Amigot)

No doubt, a revolution is happening is higher education thanks to the edX technology and pedagogy.

I recently attended a conference in Madrid, Spain, by Eric Grimson, former MIT Chancellor and one of edX’s top pedagogy experts in the world –he has created three successful MOOCs on edX.

He explained how a 2,000 year-old industry is being disrupted today. There have been two major disruptions: the printing press in 1568 and the blackboard in 1801. And we are living the third one: the one that comes from digital tools and particularly from edX.

The conference is magnificent to understand why the edX technology is so unique.

Professor Andrés Pedreño, a leading pedagogist and entrepreneur in Spain, followed Grimson’s speech with a keynote address worth watching.

All is in this video.


EdX Adds More Mobile-Friendly Courses for Its Android App While Preparing Its iPhone/iPad Release

Over 40 mobile-friendly courses will be added in the coming weeks to This will allow Android users to play them in their smartphones.

Right now only 21 mobile-friendly courses are available on the Android app –downloadable for free at the Google Play store, under the name “edx”.

This Android app is a beta version that works as a companion tool to watch course videos and see announcements and handouts. It does not allow users to take courses entirely on their smartphones. In order to complete readings, homework problems, and exams, the user is redirected to the website. The same applies to forum discussions and the assignments, which must be completed on the computer.

edX is working to make the app available on iPhones, iPads and Android tablets, as well as to make all of the edX courses mobile-friendly, although no release date has yet been provided.

LTI Technology is Getting a Second Chance on Open edX Thanks to Harvard University

Because of the lack of proper documentation and poor promotion, XBlocks are not getting much traction on the Open edX platform. This technology was intended to be the Open edX’s weapon to become dominant among learning systems. Instead, the old LTI components are getting a successful second chance.

During Open edX’s first conference in November, Phil McGachey, Tech Lead of Teaching and Learning Technologies in Harvard University made a presentation titled “Tool Integration with LTI”, reflected in the video above and in these slides.

He explained how LTI technology has allowed Harvard to share content between the two LMS they use for distance learning and in-campus teaching –edX and Canvas. He mentioned that Harvard installed a server to host new, LTI-based pedagogical tools.

Wait a minute. Harvard, co-founding member of edX, putting its innovation energy on creating LTI modules instead of XBlocks? You read it well.

There is even a satellite development group that was created during the Open edX conference to develop LTI technology.

As an additional note, it is worth noting that edX is not even a member of the IMS Global consortium, the LTI consortium, and therefore its LTI activity is not certified by this institution.


The First Six Badges of the Open edX Universe


The first Open edX-based badges or micro-credentials are being issued this weekend by George Washington University’s MOOC “Practical Numerical Methods with Python”, run by the innovative Professor Lorena Barba. IBL Studios Education developed an XBlock and created the  layouts of the badges.

These six badges –hosted at– recognize the efforts of GW Online’s students.

This development was introduced at Harvard on November 19th during the Open edX conference. Here is the video.

See the process of a student claiming a badge on the Open edX platform below.






Educause: Trends in Higher Education; the Role of the CIO


What are the key technology trends in higher education?

See the picture above that we captured last week at the Educause annual meeting in Orlando, Florida, where more than 7,000 college officials, 270 exhibitors and hundreds of organizations –IBL, among them– gathered to discuss new ideas such as the new role of the CIO in the educational industry (see below).

Fast trends (1-2 years):

  • Growing ubiquity of social media
  • Integration of online, hybrid and collaborative learning

Mid range trends  (3-5 years):

  • Rise of data-driven learning and assessment
  • Shift from students as consumers to students as creators

Long range trends (8 or more years)

  • Agile approaches to change
  • Evolution of online learning

The New Horizon Report is can be downloaded here.

The Chief Information Officer’s new role

cio role

Moreover, Educause was organized and insightful, and it was a great gathering. Once again, we learned a lot!