Rob Dolin's Blog

Thoughts on technology, politics, non-profits, and their intersections; and food

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: )

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.


For readers who may not know, Open edX is an open source platform for teaching and learning. It powers 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:

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:

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.

Filed under: Education, Microsoft, Online Communities, Technology

Your Input Wanted on Feature Roadmap for CivicCal

Over the winter holidays, I’ve been making some updates to a website where I list upcoming political and non-profit events in the Seattle metro area.  The site is CivicCal (for Civic Calendar.)  In addition to a listing of events, it also includes a list of organizations and a list of venues.  I’ve been thinking about directions to take the site and I would very much welcome your input.  A few ideas:

  • Personalization – Make it easier to set the organizations you’re interested in and to subscribe to their events
  • Social Network integration – Make it easier to share events with your friends on Facebook, followers on Twitter, etc.
  • Mobile integration – Develop a more mobile-friendly site or apps for the top mobile platforms
  • Organizations – The site is heavily focused on civic-oriented organizations and events; it could expand to include a broader set of non-profit groups
  • Geography – Should the site expand to another metro area?
  • Other – Do you have another suggestion?

Please leave a comment, post on CivicCal’s wall on Facebook, tweet at @RobDolin or @CivicCal, send an email, or otherwise get in-touch.  Thanks very much–


Filed under: News and Politics, Online Communities, Social Networking, Technology

How to find friends from a specific city on Facebook and LinkedIn

On Friday, I found-out about an awesome opportunity for friends in the DC area to see an exhibition basketball game played by current and former NBA all-starts.  (  I wanted to share this info with friends in the DC area, so I started doing some investigation of the “People Search” functionality on various Social Networks.


Searching for just the words “Washington, DC” on Facebook yields a bunch of junk results, but by filtering to People and picking the Washington, DC location, I got a bunch of quick results of my friends in the DC-area.  Here’s a link to the specific query:

And here are the settings I used:




For LinkedIn, you need to click the “Advanced” link:

And then set your options:

Here’s a canonical URL:

Next: Contact Import

Given these useful discoveries, I’m importing contacts from systems that have less robust people search (or out-of-date user profiles) like AOL/AIM.

Happy connecting–

Filed under: Online Communities, Social Networking

YDWA Conventions and Presidents

Below is the list of the Young Democrats of Washington Convention locations and the person elected President at those convention locations.  I’m posting this here so that it gets picked-up and indexed by search engines in case someone is looking for this information in the future.

  • 1992: Silverdale, WA – James Hester
  • 1993: Wenatchee, WA – James Apa (PCYD) over Aaron Reardon (SnoCoYD)
  • 1994: Olympia, WA – James Apa (PCYD)
  • 1995: Pasco, WA – Mike Sando
  • 1996: Seattle, WA – Dean Nielsen
  • 1997: Spokane, WA -Dean Nielsen
  • 1998: Tacoma, WA – Ivan Kaplan
  • 1999: ??
  • 2000: Seattle, WA – Jaxon Ravens
  • 2001: Snoqualmie, WA – Selina Davis (KCYD) and Bruce Davis
    (no relation; Selina Davis completed term)
  • 2002: Olympia, WA – Simon Farretta (SU/KCYD)
  • 2003: Bellevue, WA – Gayatri Eassey (SU/KCYD)
  • 2004: Spokane, WA – Gayatri Eassey (SU/KCYD)
  • 2005: Vancouver, WA – Aaron Belenky (KCYD)
  • 2006: Tacoma, WA – Krystal Wood (SU/PCYD/KCYD) with Corey Sanders (KCYD)
  • 2007: Wenatchee, WA – Amanda Nelson (CCYD/KCYD) over Sean Barratt (KCYD)
  • 2008: Vancouver, WA – Amanda Nelson (CCYD/KCYD)
  • 2009: Spokane, WA – Megan Gustafson (KCYD)
  • 2010: Seattle, WA – Chiho Lai (WWU/KCYD)
    (Andrew Peabody (KCYD/UW) completed term)
  • 2011: Yakima, WA – Ashley Parcells (UW/KCYD)
  • 2012: Drew Pollom (GU/KCYD)
  • 2013: Derrick Skaug (WSU)
    (Lynda Foster (PCYD) completed term)
  • 2014: Lynda Foster (PCYD)
  • 2015: Yakima, WA – Lynda Foster (PCYD)
  • 2016: Vancouver, WA – LaKecia Farmer (WSU/KCYD) with Sarah Kohout (WWU/PCYD)

THANK YOUs: This list was compiled with help from Dean NielsenJames Apa, Javier Valdez, Selina Davis, and many others.

Notes: “with” = VP/EVP candidate; “over” = runner-up


Filed under: News and Politics, Online Communities

Pigs, Chickens, and Volunteer Committees

In an agile development model or “scrum” model, there are two types of participants: Pigs and Chickens.  The terms come from a joke where a pig and a chicken talk about opening a restaurant that serves ham and eggs.  Clearly, the pig will be making a much more significant investment than the chicken.

In agile development, pigs are getting work done and collaborate to unblock each other.  Chickens participate, observe, and sometimes offer advice outside of the formal daily “scrum” meeting where the pigs coordinate their work.

I’ve been thinking about how scrum’s “pigs” and “chickens” would be a useful model to disambiguate roles in volunteer committees. 

An example of successful differentiation was a “focus group” I was invited to on Thursday evening.  A group of “pigs” including staff and board members for a non-profit hosted a group of “chickens” to provide feedback and ideas about a change in the organization’s structure.

When you’re asking for a volunteer to join your “committee” are you asking them to be a “pig” and pitch-in and do work, and you’ll make sure they have the support to be unblocked and successful; or are you asking them to be a “chicken” and provide their advice and oversight. 

Here’s an example of a challenge that can occur when expectations don’t align:  I volunteer with a group where mostly “pigs” meet monthly to coordinate work and some “chickens” have expressed displeasure at not being invited to meetings.  Initially, this is great, it would be wonderful to have more engaged “pigs” but if you’re going to attend a meeting of “pigs” and participate (rather than just observe) you should be prepared to be a “pig” yourself.  If you’re going to offer unsolicited suggestions about what should be done, you should be ready to pitch-in and help make it happen.

Filed under: Online Communities, Technology

Mobile-friendly version of YDWA 2011 Convention Schedule

Below is a copy of the schedule for the Young Democrats of Washington (YDWA) convention in Yakima April 1-3, 2011:

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Filed under: News and Politics, Online Communities, Technology

Favorite Past Posts (2009 and 2010)

Below are some of my favorite posts from 2009 and 2010:

Filed under: Blogging, Microsoft, News and Politics, Online Communities, Social Networking, Step-by-step, Technology, Windows Live

Archived Posts from Rob Dolin’s space

If you’re interested reading some of my blog posts from 2006-2010, you can find them on  Specific categories that might be of interest include:

Filed under: Blogging, Food and Drink, Humor, Microsoft, News and Politics, Online Communities, Personal, Social Networking, Step-by-step, Technology, Travel, Windows Live

How to add a “Share” link to your WordPress blog for Windows Live Messenger

I just migrated my Windows Live Space to WordPress, but I want to have my new blog’s visitors easily be able to share my blog posts out to their favorite online communities like Facebook, Twitter, and Windows Live.  I noticed that WordPress has built-in buttons for Facebook and Twitter but not Windows Live.  So I did a bit of digging and figured-out how to add a button to share on Windows Live Messenger.  Here’s what I did:

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Filed under: Blogging, Microsoft, Online Communities, Social Networking, Step-by-step, Technology, Windows Live

Rob Dolin on Twitter

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