edX E-Learning Course Development

By Matthew A. Gilbert
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    Getting Started
About this book

edX is an open source learning management system (LMS) and course-authoring tool that educational institutions and private organizations can use to create massive online open courses (MOOCs) and small private online courses (SPOCs).

This book walks you through the eight essential steps you will take to create your first edX course while teaching you tools and techniques you need to know as an edX instructor. Organized sequentially, each chapter represents a stage in your curriculum development and implementation process.

We begin with an overview of MOOCs and the history of edX; detail curriculum development and video production best practices; explore options for exercises and assessments; address your course's administrative options; and then review your role as a facilitator. Lastly, we suggest a strategy to market your course with traditional tools, edX options, and social media.

Publication date:
May 2015


Chapter 1. Getting Started

Curiosity is the engine of achievement.

According to Sir Ken Robinson—a leader in creativity, innovation, and human resource development—curiosity drives our desire to acquire knowledge. This educational exploration leads us to a deeper understanding of human creativity and intelligence.

Whether you are teaching in a traditional classroom or online in a learning management system, as an educator, it's your task to cultivate your students' curiosity. As education has evolved into an increasingly interactive experience, new online options have emerged to facilitate this function.

One emerging option is a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). As defined by the Oxford Dictionary, a MOOC is "a course of study made available over the Internet without charge to a very large number of people." A nonprofit partnership between Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), edX is a MOOC platform designed to engage your students' curiosity while activating the engine of their achievement.

Here is a screenshot of the edX home page, which you can find at http://edx.org:

This book walks you through the steps to create your first course with edX. By the time you finish this book, you should be able to develop or adapt the curriculum, produce instructional videos, design exercises and assessments, administer your course, and facilitate your students' learning experience while marketing it on social media.

Organized sequentially, each chapter represents a progressive step in the curriculum development and implementation process. To get started, we will cover the following topics in this first chapter:

  • Review edX's potential and purpose

  • Define your role and responsibilities

  • Explore available edX courses

  • Create your edX user account

  • Explain signing up for Studio

  • Outline the creation of your course

  • Preview your course's characteristics


edX's potential and purpose

Understanding the potential of edX requires a realization of online learning trends. Let's consider the 2014 Babson Survey Research Group survey of online learning, Grade Level: Tracking Online Education in the United States. The survey found the following facts:

  • 3.7 percent more students enrolled in at least one distance-education course in 2014 than in the previous year. This is the slowest rate of increase in over 10 years, but the pace of online learning accounts for almost three quarters of all increases in enrollment to higher education in the United States.

  • 70.8 percent of chief academic officers agree that online education is critical to their institution's long-term strategy, a 48.8 percent growth from 2002.

  • 80.9 percent of for-profit institutions report that online education is critical to their long-term strategy. 72.9 percent of public institutions and 63.5 percent of private nonprofit institutions report the same.

Survey data for MOOCs shows that they have promise, but present unique challenges. This makes sense, given their relative newness in the online-learning landscape, along with their increased scale and scope. Findings from the survey indicate the following facts:

  • 8.0 percent of higher-education institutions currently have a MOOC, up from 2.6 percent in 2012 and 5.0 percent in 2013

  • 16.3 percent of academic leaders believe MOOCs offer a sustainable method of offering courses online, a drop from 28.3 percent in 2012

  • 39.9 percent of academic institutions are still undecided about MOOCs, while 46.5 percent have no immediate plans to launch a MOOC


    You can download the 2014 Babson Survey Research Group (BSRG) survey of online learning, Grade Level: Tracking Online Education in the United States, from http://onlinelearningconsortium.org/read/survey-reports-2014/.

Growth of the MOOC market

Despite the mixed results from the Babson Survey Research Group report, there is much about MOOCs that is positive. Both educational institutions and private organizations are exploring ways to meet their learning objectives with MOOCs.

A January 2015 report by Visiongain, an independent business information provider for the telecoms, pharmaceutical, defense, energy, and metal industries, anticipates the worldwide revenue from MOOCs will reach $1.5 billion in 2015.

The findings of the report, Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) Market 2015-2020: mEducation, Distance, Open & e-Learning in Higher Education & Enterprise, were based on the growing use of mobile devices, increasing rates of enrollment in MOOC courses, the growing use of MOOCs for enterprise-level training, and a strong demand for low-cost, high-quality globalized education.

Likewise, in a December 2014 EdSurge article, MOOCs in 2014: Breaking Down the Numbers, Dhawal Shah shares similarly compelling statistics supporting MOOCs:

  • The top three subjects in which students enrolled include humanities, computer science and programming, and business and management.

  • The top five MOOC providers by student enrollment are Coursera (10.5 million), edX (3 million), Udacity (1.5 million), MiradaX (1 million), and FutureLearn (800,000). You can review a list of courses offered by each MOOC provider at https://www.class-central.com/providers.

  • The number of top 25 United States universities included in the US News World Report rankings offering courses online for free has grown to 22.

  • The number of universities now offering MOOCs has doubled to 400.

  • The number of cumulative MOOC courses doubled to 2,400.

Shah's article indicates that, while MOOCs are in a phase of early adoption, they are on the precipice of pronounced growth. There are already intriguing examples of what the future holds for MOOCs. Top trends include the following:

  • MOOC providers offering credentials for their paid courses

  • Increased focus on the quality of course videos and materials

  • A shift to an on-demand model of delivery, such as lynda.com and Udemy, in which a student can complete a course at their pace, and not in alignment with a traditional academic quarter or semester

The emergence of Open edX

Another intriguing evolution acknowledged in Shah's article is that Open edX—the open source version of edX—has emerged as the preferred MOOC platform for organizations and groups. It has already been adopted by organizations in locations such as Jordan, Japan, France, China, India, and the United States.


You can read Dhawal Shah's article, MOOCs in 2014: Breaking Down the Numbers, online at https://www.edsurge.com/n/2014-12-26-moocs-in-2014-breaking-down-the-numbers.

Further strengthening the standing of Open edX among organizations, November 2014 saw the launch of a conference for developing and using the edX open source platform. Hosted by the Open edX community in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the conference welcomed developers, system administrators, education specialists, and anyone working with or wanting to learn more about Open EdX.


You can learn more about the Open edX Conference at http://con.openedx.org, review slides, or watch YouTube videos of the presentations online at https://openedx.atlassian.net/wiki/display/OPEN/Open+edX+Conference+Presentations.

Emerging educational opportunities

MOOCs are also making inroads into higher education. In 2013, Georgia Institute of Technology announced plans to offer an online MS degree in computer science. Powered by Udacity's MOOC platform and offered in partnership with AT&T, the program—informally called "OMS CS"—is estimated to cost $7,000, a fraction of an equivalent on-campus program. Enrollment opened in January 2015, with the first cohort of classes beginning that fall.


You can learn more about the Georgia Institute of Technology "OMS CS" program at http://www.omscs.gatech.edu.

MOOCs are making their mark in emerging educational markets. In March 2015, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and CourseTalk.com, an online course review company, launched of a two-year, 1.55-million-dollar initiative, Advancing MOOCs for Development, to expand education and career training globally.

As part of the initiative, the Technology and Social Change Group (TASCHA) at the University of Washington will analyze more than 70,000 CourseTalk student reviews to understand the awareness and usage of MOOCs among 18- to 35-year olds in Colombia, the Philippines, and South Africa. IREX, a nonprofit development organization, will provide support for the program.

The research will be used to design a MOOC-centric training framework and create a campaign to increase MOOC enrollment and completion rates in those countries.


You can learn more about the Advancing MOOCs for Development program at http://www.coursetalk.com/advancingmooc.

Another unique way MOOCs can be used is a Small Private Online Course (SPOC). SPOCs are basically smaller-scale versions of MOOCs that are used with on-campus students or special interest groups who want to share knowledge. SPOCs work well with a flipped classroom approach, combining online interaction with resources in conjunction with real-time engagement in a classroom.

The impact of edX

Founded in May 2012 as a partnership between Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), edX has established itself as one of the leading MOOC platforms. edX is currently led by CEO Anant Agarwal, PhD, who taught the first edX course on circuits and electronics from MIT; 155,000 students from 162 countries were enrolled.


You can watch a YouTube video of Anant Agarwal explaining how edX works: https://youtu.be/B-EFayAA5_0.

Working from MIT's OpenCourseWare initiative, edX is unique among MOOCs as the only one that is both nonprofit and open source (a feature it released in June 2013). Dedicated to a desire to democratize education, edX was designed for students and institutions seeking to transform themselves using leading technology, innovative pedagogy, and rigorous courses, regardless of location, gender, income, or social status.


Learn more about Open edX in this video from ExtensionEngine, a team of passionate engineers, designers and product managers focused on making a difference in online and blended education: https://youtu.be/yDE8vN6DI_k. You can also learn about the services they offer to assist you in the implementation of your edX course at http://extensionengine.com/services/open-edx/.

As of January 2015, edX has more than 10 million course enrollments, with more than 3 million students from every country. Approximately 70 percent of edX students come from outside the U.S. edX learners range in age from 8 to 95, with a student body consisting of 60 percent continuing learners, 24 percent university-age learners, and 4 percent high-school students which comprise edX's High School Initiative.

A powerful platform, edX can enhance education both on-campus and online. To achieve that goal, in September 2013, edX partnered with Google to build MOOC.org—a free, open-source platform for universities, institutions, businesses, and individuals to create courses on the cloud. Still in development, this project will very likely revolutionize online learning just as WordPress reimagined online publishing.

The previously mentioned 4 percent enrollment of high school students reflects edX's High School Initiative, which it launched in September 2014. Students can enroll in AP-level courses on subjects including English, history, mathematics, and science, among others. Teachers can also use the materials of these courses to supplement their classroom curriculum. Students can take a course for free or pay for a Verified Certificate to share with teachers or college admissions.


Learn more about edX's High School Initiative at https://www.edx.org/high-school-initiative

October 2014 saw the addition of professional development courses to edX. Designed for working professionals, these courses offer students a convenient, time-saving online learning experience that fits into their busy schedules. Courses can run for a few days to several weeks. Content is geared to a specific industry or skill set, with an emphasis on hands-on scenarios from the field. All professional education courses are fee-based; the fees vary by course. Many offer continuing education or professional education credit, and all courses give students the option for Verified Certificates of Achievement.


Learn more about edX's professional development courses at https://www.edx.org/professional-education

Around the same time edX launched the professional development courses, they announced that they were beginning to offer their partners the ability to host their courses on a white-labeled site, branded by the institution and powered by the edX platform. You can look for this option to emerge more actively over time.


Explore an example of edX's white label initiative via MIT Professional Education's course Tackling the Challenges of Big Data at https://mitprofessionalx.mit.edu and Energy Technology and Policy from UT Austin at https://utaustinx.edx.org.

In March 2015, edX partnered with Microsoft to make courses available for individuals wanting to build innovative applications, services, and experiences on the Microsoft platform. Initial courses include Programming with C#, Introduction to TypeScript, Introduction to Bootstrap, Querying with Transact SQL, Building Cloud Apps with Microsoft Azure, Introduction to Office 365 APIs, and Windows PowerShell Fundamentals.


Explore edX at https://www.edx.org or get started with Open edX at https://open.edx.org. Learn about edX's High School Initiative at https://www.edx.org/high-school-initiative, its partnership with Microsoft at https://www.edx.org/school/microsoft, and professional education programs at https://www.edx.org/professional-education.

In April 2015 edX announced the Global Freshman Academy (GFA), a partnership with Arizona State University (ASU). This one of a kind collaboration lets learners worldwide earn freshman-level university credit after passing a series of digital immersion courses. Courses are designed and taught by ASU faculty, while being hosted by edX. There are no application, transcript, no GPA requirements, and no entrance exams. Plus, you only pay for credit when you pass! The result is a reimagined freshman year that's accessible, cost-effective, and personalized.


Learn more about the Global Freshman Academy and sign up for email notifications about GFA updates and new courses at https://www.edx.org/gfa. You can also watch the video Getting Started Global Freshman Academy at https://youtu.be/4DDBoI92NoE

April 2015 also saw the introduction of a long awaited edX mobile app for both Android and iPhone. Notably, the edX mobile app does not offer full functionality; it is basically a companion to the edx.org website. You can use it to download course videos and watch them later, even without an Internet connection. However, you will need to use a web browser on a computer to access the rest of the course, including course discussions, homework, and quizzes.


Learn more about the edX mobile app at https://www.edx.org/blog/learn-go-edx-mobile-app or view instructions on using the app on the online edX Guide for Students at http://edx-guide-for-students.readthedocs.org/en/latest/SFD_mobile.html

The foundation and future of edX

39 charter member colleges and universities support edX's mission, including the founding members, MIT and Harvard, and other leading academic institutions comprising the xConsortium. Another 32 universities, NGOs, businesses, and high-profile quality course builders represent the member institutions.


You can view the list of edX members at https://www.edx.org/schools-partners.

As of May 2015, edX has produced 518 courses: 125 are currently available, 67 more will start soon, 82 are upcoming, and 55 are self-paced; 244 have been archived. Courses cover topics that include biology, business, chemistry, computer science, economics, finance, electronics, engineering, history, humanities, law, literature, math, medicine, music, nutrition, philosophy, physics, science, statistics, and more. edX, HarvardX, and MITx have successfully piloted several SPOCs as well.


You can view the list of edX courses at https://www.edx.org/course.

EdX was designed to not only deliver education but also revolutionize learning. Given that goal, edX seeks to understand how students learn, how technology can transform learning, and the ways in which teachers teach. Team members are tasked to analyze data from each course, evaluating mouse clicks, time spent on tasks, how students engage assessments, and other metrics. The short-term goal is to improve a course, but the larger goal is to understand how to best leverage technology for learning.

edX embraces four principles: operate as a nonprofit organization, remain an open source platform, embrace collaboration, and achieve financial stability. The questions edX seeks to answer include the following:

  • What motivates students to learn and persist?

  • What helps students retain knowledge?

  • What are the best ways to teach complex ideas?

  • How can we assess what students have learned?

  • What is best taught in person versus online?

You might find it helpful to keep the preceding questions in mind when developing and teaching your edX courses.


Your role and responsibilities

Like Paul Revere and his midnight ride, we're in the midst of a revolution—an educational revolution—with its beginnings in Boston. As an online educator, you're leading the charge for change, with edX as your weapon of mass instruction! As you begin your march forward, consider keeping the cadence outlined in the following best practices:

  • Allocate sufficient time and resources; it will take time to conceptualize and create the curriculum and instructional videos for your course.

  • Assemble a team of instructional designers, graphic designers, software developers, student volunteers, teaching assistants, videographers, and other skilled professionals to help you develop curricula, review exercises, and manage your course.

  • Convert a typical 8- to 16-week on-campus course into several smaller units.

  • Develop your curriculum in modules. Doing this integrates your course with the structure of edX sections and subsections, while aligning your instruction in a way students prefer to learn. This also makes it easier to revise, rearrange, or remove content when you update the course.

  • Leverage edX's functionality to enhance the interactivity of your curriculum, while making it as rigorous as an on-campus course. Just because your course is online doesn't mean it should be less academically intense.

  • Limit your videos to 3 to 5 minutes in length. According to StatisticBrain.com, the average length of time people will watch an Internet video is just 2.7 minutes. Therefore, shorter is better.

  • Participate in the user community. There are three online resources: edX Author Support, the edx-code Google group, and the XBlock Google group.

  • Replace your classroom lecture with a learning sequence. Interweave what edX calls finger exercises within a video lecture sequence. This translates into short assessments usually with one to five questions.

  • Select subject matter experts for your team whose expertise you can integrate into your curricula. Have them review your material for accuracy and rigor.

  • Teach in the same student-centered way as you've always done. Although edX is unique, the andragogical principles you've used when teaching adults and the pedagogical approaches you've used when teaching kids still apply.


    You can access edX Course Author Support at http://help.edge.edx.org, join the edx-code Google group at https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/edx-code, or participate in the XBlock Google group at https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/edx-xblock.


Creating your edX account

While you don't need an edX account to see the list of courses, you do need it to take a course. Beyond the immediate benefit of taking a course on edx.org, as an instructor you will learn best practices from other educators who are already using the platform. If haven't created an account already while exploring the courses in the preceding sections, follow these steps to get started:

  1. Go to www.edx.org.

  2. Click on the blue Register link in the top-right corner of the page.

  3. Complete the registration form, mentioning the following:

    • Email

    • Full Name

    • Public Username


      Note that your public username will appear in any discussions or forums you participate in, and it cannot be changed later.

    • Password

    • Country

    • Gender

    • Year of Birth

    • Highest Level of Education Completed

    • Mailing Address

    • Tell us why you're interested in edX

  4. Agree to the Terms of Service and Honor Code.

  5. Click on the blue Create your account button.

  6. Change your account settings by clicking Account Settings under the downward arrow to the right of your username in the top-right corner of the page, like this:

  7. Change your Basic Account Information including Full Name, Email Address, Password, Language, and Country or Region.


    You cannot change your Username after you create your account.

  8. Change your Connected Accounts by linking or unlinking your Facebook and Google accounts with your edX account, as follows:

  9. Change your profile by clicking My Profile under the downward arrow to the right of your username in the top-right corner of the page.

  10. Click on the Upload an image icon to add a profile picture, and click inside the + About me box to enter information about yourself for other edX users to read.


    You must specify your birth year in your Account Settings before you can share your full profile. Until you do so, you can only share a Limited Profile.

  11. Review your profile picture and About me bio, clicking on either to change them.

  12. Sign out of your account by clicking Sign Out on the downward arrow to the right of your username in the top-right corner of the page.

Your students will follow steps similar to those explained previously to register for edX and enroll in your course. After registering, all that a student needs to take an edX course is a computer or a mobile device, and a willingness to learn.

Students can audit your course for personal enrichment, or they can pay to receive a certificate of achievement by earning a passing grade. There is no penalty for failing to complete assignments or discontinuing their participation in a course they choose to audit.

In addition, fundamental to the edX student experience is the Honor Code. Similar to those at traditional academic institutions, the edX Honor Code defines the ethical expectations from students. When enrolling in a course, students pledge to do the following:

  • Complete all mid-term and final exams with only their own work. They must not submit the work of any other person.

  • Maintain only one user account and not let anyone else use their username or password.

  • Not engage in any activity that would dishonestly improve their results, or improve or hurt the results of others.

  • Not post answers to problems that are being used to assess student performance.

Creating a collaborative community of learning is also essential to edX. Unless instructors give different direction, students in an edX course are encouraged to carry out these actions:

  • Collaborate with others on lecture videos, exercises, homework, and labs

  • Discuss general concepts and material of each course with others

  • Present ideas and written work to fellow edX learners or others for comments or criticism


Exploring edX courses

Now that you've understood the potential and purpose of edX along with your role and responsibilities, let's familiarize ourselves with where to find edX courses.

Finding courses by navigating

  1. Go to www.edx.org.

  2. Click on Find Courses shown at the top of the page.

  3. Review the course list that shows up as shown in the following screenshot:

  4. Hover over each course until the Learn More graphic appears. Click on it to view the course's About page; it should look something like this:

  5. Review the information about the course and watch the course's intro video in the top-left corner of the course's About page, as shown in the following screenshot.

  6. Click on the green Enroll Now button on the upper right-hand corner of the About page to enroll in the course.

  7. Share the course information on social media using the sharing buttons provided.

  8. Create an account (if you don't have one already) using your Facebook or Google+ account or fill in the form, making sure to agree to the edX Terms of Service and Honor Code.

  9. Hover over the white Sign in button until it turns blue and click it if you already have an edX account.

  10. Sign in by entering your Email and Password or with your Facebook or Google+ account.

  11. Click on the green Pursue a Verified Certificate button if you want to earn a certificate if that option is available. Click on the blue Audit This Course button if you prefer to take the course for enrichment, but without earning a certificate.

  12. View your most recent course enrollment at the top of your list of Current Courses that displays.

  13. Decide whether you want to make a donation to edX in the field in the top-right corner of the page if that is offered; a $5 donation is suggested.

  14. Consider converting your enrollment from Audit to Verified by signing up for an ID verified Certificate of Achievement for this course.

  15. Scroll down the page to see the Dashboard of your Current Courses.

  16. Access your currently available courses by clicking on the blue View Course button, as shown here:

  17. Access your completed courses by clicking the gray View Archived Course button.

  18. Click the gear icon to the left of the blue View Course button or the gray View Archived Course to Unenroll from a course.

  19. Click the gear icon to the left of the blue View Course button or the gray View Archived Course to change your Email Settings for a course.

  20. Click the white Dashboard button in the top-right corner of any page outside of an edX course to see the Dashboard of your Current Courses.

Finding courses by searching

  1. Go to www.edx.org.

  2. Enter a search word or phrase; a list of suggested matches will open beneath the search box.

  3. Select a suggested result if correct, or click the search icon for additional results.

  4. Review the course list that displays.

  5. Hover over each course until the Learn More graphic appears. Click on it to view the course's About page; it should look something like this:

  6. Follow the instructions from step 5 in the Finding courses by navigating section.

Finding courses by viewing all courses

  1. Go to www.edx.org.

  2. Click on VIEW ALL COURSES under the search box.

  3. Follow the instructions from step 3 onwards in the Finding courses by navigating section.

Finding courses by home page

  1. Go to www.edx.org.

  2. Scroll down to view the courses displayed in the Our Most Popular Courses Starting Soon section.

  3. Follow the instructions from step 3 onwards in the Finding courses by navigating section.

Finding courses by refining your search

  1. Go to edx.org

  2. Click on COURSES in the top navigation bar.

  3. View the right-hand side of your screen where you will see a column tiled Refine your search, like this:

  4. Scroll down the page, noting the following categorizations of courses: Availability, Subjects, Level, Language, Course Types, and Schools & Partners.

  5. Click on any of the search terms within each category to refine your search to display only courses that match that criterion.

  6. Continue refining your search as needed, noting how each selected term is represented in the following screenshot:

  7. Hover over each course until the Learn More graphic appears, as shown in the following screenshot. Click on it to view the course's About page.


Signing up for Studio

Studio is the edX authoring tool; think of it as the workshop for your course. You can use Studio to create and integrate your course curriculum with the edX platform, embed links to your instructional YouTube videos, implement exercises and assessments, upload image files and supplemental materials, organize the order of your course materials, and schedule the release dates of your course modules. You can also manage your course team, establish your grading policies, and publish your course.

You can access Studio directly through your web browser; no additional software is needed. As an example, the following is a screenshot of the edX Studio login screen for an edX Edge course:

Instructions for registering an account with Studio and accessing your course are covered in the following sections. There are actually three versions of the edX platform. Whichever version of edX you have access to, you will be able to use Studio to create and manage your courses. Additional details about each edX version are as follows.


The edX website, edX.org, is home to the official edX courses, and is widely accessible for student enrollment. Only the faculty of xConsortium member institutions can author courses here (all courses must also be approved).

To publish a course on edx.org, you must first have an agreement with edX and an approval from your university. You will author your edX course through https://studio.edx.org.

To sign up for Studio on edx.org, follow these steps:

  1. Complete the registration form at: https://studio.edx.org/signup.

  2. Click on the link in the activation e-mail to finish the account creation process.

  3. Log in to author your courses at https://studio.edx.org/signin.

  4. Follow the instructions in the Creating your course section later in this chapter.

edX Edge

edX Edge (https://edge.edx.org/login) is an alternate option for an xConsortium faculty that wants to publish an edX course in a supported environment without the restrictions and requirements of edx.org. edX Edge can also be used to host SPOCs.

It looks similar and functions identically to edX, but there is no catalog of courses, so students will need the URL of your course to register. Courses on edX Edge will not appear on edx.org; the two versions are completely separate from each other. Eventually, all courses on edx.org will be developed on edX Edge and will then be migrated to edx.org.

To sign up for Studio on edX Edge, perform these steps:

  1. Complete the registration form at https://studio.edge.edx.org/signup.

  2. Click on the link in the activation e-mail to finish the account creation process.

  3. Log in to author your courses at https://studio.edge.edx.org/signin.

  4. Follow the instructions in the Creating your course section later in this chapter.

Open edX

Open edX (https://open.edx.org) is the open source version of the edX platform. All of the code you need to install a fully functional version of edX on private servers can be downloaded free of charge here.

This lets institutions host their own instances of Open edX and offer their own MOOC classes. Likewise, educators can extend the platform to build learning tools that precisely meet their needs. Additionally, developers can experiment and contribute new features to the Open edX platform.

The goal in releasing edX in an open source format is to help build a global community that includes educators and technologists. Through their collaborative efforts, innovative approaches and new tools that benefit students everywhere can be created.

Keep in mind, however, that edX requires a high degree of technical ability to install and manage, so you will need a skilled technical team to install and maintain it. The URL for signing up for Studio and accessing it to create courses will vary by installation.


You can review a list of sites powered by Open edX (sorted by the primary course language and then alphabetized) at https://github.com/edx/edx-platform/wiki/Sites-powered-by-Open-edX.


Creating your course

Once you receive a notice saying that you've been approved to create courses, follow these steps:

  1. Log in to Studio at https://studio.edx.org (for edX) or https://studio.edge.edx.org (for edX Edge). The URL will vary for the installations of Open edX.


    You can experiment with a sandbox installation of edX by logging in to Studio at https://studio.sandbox.edx.org/signin with an e-mail address of and a password of edx. You can also view a live version of the sandbox course at https://www.sandbox.edx.org, using the same log-in credentials as the sandbox studio. See the Characteristics of your course section for detailed login instructions.

  2. Click on the green + Create Your First Course button.

  3. Click on the green + New Course button (for subsequent courses).

  4. Enter the course information in the Create a New Course form, as shown in the following screenshot:

    Your course information becomes a part of the web address of your course, so enter it carefully. If you are creating your course on edX or edX Edge, you must contact the edX help site (http://help.edge.edx.org) to change it. Also keep in mind that the total number of characters in the following fields is limited to 65:

    • Course Name: Enter the title of your course, using title capitalization.

    • Organization: Enter the name of your university or company. Do not include whitespace or special characters; use an underscore instead.

    • Course Number: Enter an abbreviation and a number for the topic and title of your course. In the preceding example, the course was numbered EDX_101, which corresponds to EdX Course 101. Do not include whitespaces or special characters here.


    If your course is open to the world, be sure to include the "x" at the end. If it is exclusively an on-campus offering, do not include the "x."

  5. Click the blue Create button.

  6. View your empty course on edX Edge:

    • Click on the blue View Live button in the course outline in Studio

    • Log in directly from the edX or edX Edge URL

  7. Find the course you just created in the listing of available courses.

  8. Click on the blue View Course button to access your course.


Characteristics of your course

Now that you've signed up for Studio and created your first course, let's discuss its characteristics. Although edX is an innovative approach to online learning, you'll find the interface familiar if you've previously taught online. The difference is in the delivery of your course and the potential size of its enrollment.

Your course follows a hierarchical structure, starting with course tabs. Within each tab are sections containing subsections, in which there are units. It is the units in which you will place your actual course components (discussions, HTML, problems, or videos).

When you first create a course, it includes the following tabs by default. As you develop your curriculum, you can add more tabs that align with your learning objectives:

  • Courseware: Your students spend a significant portion of time accessing your curriculum here. Clicking on the Courseware tab reveals all sections of your course and the content in each of them. The Courseware tab is always visible in the top-left corner of the page, regardless of any customization. Students can click on it at any time and return to the lesson they were previously viewing.

  • Course Info: Updates and announcements about your course can be posted here, along with downloadable material in the Course Handouts sidebar.

  • Discussion: All the discussions on a course are accessible via this tab. You and your students can sort them by the date of the most recent comments, the number of votes a thread received, and the number of comments made in a thread.

  • Wiki: This is a collaborative space where you and your students can freely share ideas. You might also post course updates or known technical issues.

  • Progress: Students can see how much coursework they've completed and how much remains. Scores for each exercise are posted, along with the number of exercises that are not yet completed.

  • Instructor: This tab opens the Instructor dashboard, which displays administrative tools such as Course Info, Membership, Student Admin, Data Download, and Analytics.

To help you visualize the potential form and function of your edX course, take a look at the following screenshots from these two edX courses: edX: Open_DemoX edX Demonstration Course and MITx: 8.01x Classical Mechanics. The first example is from edX: Open_DemoX edX Demonstration Course, a functional demo course available on edX's public Studio Sandbox (as introduced before in the Creating your course section and further explained later in the Public Studio Sandbox subsection).

Your course will likely resemble this when you first start working with it:

The following screen capture of MITx: 8.01x Classical Mechanics serves as an example of a customized edx.org course. Note the additional tabs and how fully developed the content is. Pay careful attention to the learning sequence of instructional videos and exercises displayed across the ribbon above the video in the Week 1 unit.

Having reviewed the course tabs and their functions, let's review the structural elements of our course. Unlike the course tabs, these cannot be changed; they are the foundation on which your course is built:

  • Section: This is the top-level category you will use to organize your course. Section names might correspond to weeks in your course or themes you will explore. Section names appear in the course accordion in the left pane.

  • Subsection: This is a subcategory within a section, which corresponds to a lesson. Each lesson will contain a mixture of units.

  • Unit: This is a part of a lesson containing at least one component. A unit is not represented in the course accordion, but appears in the course ribbon at the top of the workspace.

  • Component: This is the area in a unit containing your course content, represented by an icon in that unit's ribbon. There are four types of content that you can add to your edX course:

    • Discussion: This is where you and your students add posts, comments, and responses to a question. Discussions in an individual unit appear in the course's discussion forum.

    • HTML: This is used to add information to a unit, including text, lists, links, and images. You can import LaTeX code here and insert hand-coded content (or content you've programmed using a WYSIWYG editor).

    • Problem: You can add interactive, automatically graded exercises to your course with this component. There are many types of problems you can design, depending on the learning objectives of your course.

    • Video: You can create videos of lectures and add them to your course with other components to promote active learning. Adding a video to your course requires several steps that will be defined later in this book. edX is designed to stream videos uploaded to YouTube, but you can also make .mp4 files of every video available for students to download.

Public Studio Sandbox

The public Studio Sandbox is a safe, stable, and standalone space where you can experiment with edX without affecting the actual course. Keep in mind, however, that the Sandbox account can be reset at any time, typically weekly, so any changes you make to it will only be temporary. Also, since it is a public account, anyone can make changes to it at any time.

You can access the public Studio Sandbox using these steps:

  1. Go to https://www.sandbox.edx.org.

  2. Click on the blue Log in button.

  3. Enter the E-mail address as .

  4. Provide Password as edx.

  5. Log in to https://studio.sandbox.edx.org to access Studio for the Sandbox (using the same credentials as mentioned previously).

  6. Log in to https://preview.sandbox.edx.org to preview your course.



This chapter introduced edX as both a MOOC platform and an organization, while helping you understand its potential and purpose. We reviewed our role and responsibilities as an edX instructor, discovering best practices in the process.

You were guided through the process of signing up for edX, creating an Studio account, and taking the first steps towards creating your first course. You learned about the characteristics of a typical edX course and were also shown an example of a more customized edX class.

In Chapter 2, Planning the Curriculum, we will move from ideas to action and begin the curriculum development process. Starting with a Course Matrix—a recommended administrative tool you can use to map your curriculum—we will tackle the tasks necessary to plan and prepare the curriculum for our course.

About the Author
  • Matthew A. Gilbert

    Matthew A. Gilbert, MBA, is a business professor and corporate trainer with extensive experience as a writer, marketer, and speaker. He's guided by the motto "learn continuously, live generatively."

    Skilled in learning management systems such as Blackboard, Canvas, eCollege, edX, and Moodle, he develops and teaches communication, management, and marketing courses for adult learners online, on campus, and in blended learning environments. In corporate settings, he conducts business communication, decision-making, and social media marketing workshops. Having embraced an opportunity overseas, Matthew now teaches undergraduates at a university in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates.

    A tech-savvy writer, his first book, edX E-Learning Course Development, was published for educators with the aim of designing, developing, and deploying MOOC courses on the edX platform. He has also authored scholarly papers, feature articles, and Doctorious - a blog about his adventures in academia. He is an unrepentant fan of the Oxford comma; the semicolon is another one of his guilty pleasures.

    As a marketer and consultant, Matthew has managed people, products, and projects in the education, entertainment, medical device, nonprofit, publishing, travel, and technology sectors. Recognized for his knowledge of social media marketing, he has been called upon to provide expert witness testimony for lawsuits and related research matters.

    A charismatic speaker, Matthew uses sincerity, humor, and storytelling to connect with audiences; education, leadership, management, social media, and technology are his main topics. Be sure to ask him about his signature speech called Superman: Manager of Steel.

    When asked why teaching is his tenure, he explains, "I embrace education as my profession because it empowers me to help shape the lives of others, while giving my own life greater meaning."

    For more information about Matthew, you can visit his website at matthewagilbert.com, connect with him on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/matthewagilbert, or follow him on Twitter at @MatthewAGilbert.

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