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Open edX + Microsoft Office 365: Better Together (Cross-Post)

As a part of the Microsoft Open Technologies (MS Open Tech) team, one of my projects was leading engineering on integrations with open source software from the educational sector.  Here is a post about some of that work:

(Cross-posted from: https://msopentech.com/blog/2015/06/26/open-edx-office-365/ )

Open edX + Microsoft Office 365: Better Together

In the past few days, key contributions have been accepted into the Open edX codebase to enable integration between Open edX, a popular open source system for massive open online courses or MOOCs and Office 365’s popular productivity software and services.

This continues Microsoft’s contributions to educational open source software including Office 365 integrations with Moodle announced earlier this year.

Background

For readers who may not know, Open edX is an open source platform for teaching and learning. It powers edX.org where Berkeley, Harvard, MIT, IIT Mumbai, Tsinghua University, the University of Arizona, the University of Texas, and many other academic institutions publish MOOCs. Open edX software also powers academic, professional, and vocational learning sites including: Blue Planet Life, Cloud Genius, DrupalX, McKinsey Academy, MongoDB University, University of Alaska, UNC Online and many others.

Microsoft uses edX as well, and in March of this year announced a new set of edX courses designed to provide developers with the skills they need to be successful in the cloud-first, mobile-first world. Taught by well-known Microsoft experts, these course focus on in-demand skills and feature interactive coding, assessments and exercises to help students build the expertise they need to excel in their careers.

Single Sign-On

With the “Cypress” release coming in July 2015, administrators of Open edX software will be able to enable single sign-on with a variety of identity providers including Facebook, Google, and Office 365.

The story of enabling Office 365 sign-on for Open edX is a story of collaboration that happens frequently in open source software. Initially, an MS Open Tech engineer made a pull request to add support for login with Office 365 to Open edX. A member of the edX team pointed us to another pull request authored by Braden MacDonald from OpenCraft. We connected with Braden who provided our engineering team with a sandbox for testing. We verified that Braden’s pull request would satisfy our scenario as long as it picked-up the latest version of another open source library. Earlier today, Braden’s pull request incorporating our requirements was merged from the feature branch in to the master branch of the code.

During discussions on GitHub, we also found that there was a need for documentation of the new single sign-on / 3rd party authentication functionality. We have volunteered to dedicate some resources to that work.

Insert / Embed File XBlock

Our contributions to Open edX have also included a new XBlock which enables supported files to be inserted or embedded. Like single sign-on, we began with an initial goal of Open edX + Microsoft Office 365 integration and ended-up not just contributing Microsoft integration to the open source project, but contributing an XBlock that supports integration with any service that provides a public URL for hosted documents and implements oEmbed.

The “File Storage” XBlock enables course authors to insert a hyperlink to a file or embed a file from a large number of file hosting solutions. Our team has tested: Box, Dropbox, Google docs, Office Mix, OneDrive, Slideshare, Soundcloud, TED, YouTube, and more. You can find a full list of tested file hosts in the XBlock’s ReadMe file.

Documentation, installation instructions, and the open source code for the “File Storage” XBlock is at: https://github.com/MSOpenTech/xblock-filestorage

Office Mix XBlock

MS Open Tech is not the only team from Microsoft contributing to Open edX. The Office Mix team has developed an XBlock for embedding content authored in Office Mix into an Open edX course. The XBlock was originally published at the end of 2014 and the Mix team is working to ensure all Office Mix content embedded in Open edX courses is accessible. Thanks to the flexible XBlock architecture, when these issues are addressed, all Office Mix content embedded in Open edX courses will automatically get the accessibility fixes.

Documentation, installation instructions, and the open source code for the Office Mix XBlock are at: https://github.com/OfficeDev/xblock-officemix

Future Contributions

In addition to our collaboration with Braden, we are appreciative of the friendly, welcoming, and helpful members of the Open edX community including Beth Porter, Sarina Canelake, Ned Batchelder, Mark Hoeber, and others.

We hope you’re as excited as we are to see this integration between Open edX and Office 365 and as we did with Moodle over the last few months, we look forward to this just being just the beginning of exciting integrations between open source Open edX and Office 365.

Jean Paoli, President
Rob Dolin, Senior Program Manager
Doug Mahugh, Senior Technical Evangelist
Microsoft Open Technologies, Inc.

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Filed under: Education, Microsoft, Online Communities, Technology

Crowdsourcing a computer for students

I’m obviously biased, but I think this program for students to crowdsource the funds to buy a computer for school is really great: https://www.WindowsChipIn.com/

Like many other crowdsourcing platforms, users can define a project or goal and ask family, friends, and strangers to donate a small portion of the cost.  What makes this program stand-out is:

  • Microsoft is funding the first 10% – You’ll notice prices at https://www.windowschipin.com/BrowsePC end in some odd numbers (ex: a Surface RT is $314) this is because it’s down 10% ($35) from the retail price of $349.
  • The PC will come with Office 365 University pre-loaded – As good as some web-based office suites are, having the gold standard in document, spreadsheet/list, and presentation creation is super-useful; and I’m a big fan of Outlook for email and calendar management and OneNote for both personal note organization and group project collaboration. 

I know that not everyone wants one of these PC’s.  (I didn’t see the Dell XPS 12 convertible ultrabook as one of the options.)  So I’m also curious: Do Apple, Google, Samsung, RIM, Ubuntu, or others offer a similar program for Macs, iPads, Chromebooks, Android, or BlackBerry?  I hope they do. 

Filed under: Education, Microsoft, Technology

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