We’re excited to welcome Lorena A. Barba, Associate Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the George Washington University, to the Open edX Conference next month. As a faculty member adopting Open edX with relatively little tech support, Lorena will provide conference attendees with a unique user perspective. We asked her to field some questions about her experience with Open edX.

Where are you/your organization located?

I’m based at the George Washington University in Washington DC. My office is five blocks from the White House!

How does working with Open edX relate to your organization’s mission?

In the last year, a university committee completed a strategy recommendation for online learning, and one of the main features of the recommendation is that we should bring our online course creation operations in-house. The strategy exercise was largely focused on regular online programs (credit-bearing). In relation to MOOCs, GW made a commitment to support faculty who are interested in exploring this format to reach a global audience. The university recognizes as part of its mission creating opportunities for people around the world to learn with us, especially in areas that are our special strengths. In my department (Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering), computational science is solidifying as a strength area and I had the enthusiastic support of our dean of Engineering and Applied Sciences for running our first MOOC. We used Open edX to create an online home for independent MOOCs that are born out of grassroots faculty initiatives.

How did you first hear about the Open edX initiative?

As a staunch advocate for open source in education, I was thrilled to hear that edX had decided to release the code. The news hit me from all sides of my social media network as soon as it was announced.

How long have you been working with the Open edX platform?

We had our customized instance worked on in late July/early August this year. Only a couple of weeks before the start of the course, I started developing the course directly on Studio, clicking through and reading the documentation as needed. So the answer to your question is: just about two months.

What has been your focus in your work with Open edX?

As course instructor and designer at the same time, my focus has been creating a map, a guided tour for the course participants to navigate the course content and learning pathways. The core content, itself, resides outside the Open edX platform, in fact—it’s on GitHub. We also use the Open edX discussion forum and graded assignments, so the platform is more for providing interaction than content. My focus is learning together. I am learning as intensely as the top participants in the course. We use Open edX as an object of connection.

What will you be discussing at Open edX Con?

I will share my experience as a faculty member adopting Open edX without hardly any external tech support, and driving it by the seat of my pants, so to speak, to create a course from scratch.

The course is called “Practical Numerical Methods with Python,” and it was announced for the first time during my keynote at the Scientific Python Conference, SciPy 2014 (July). You can see the subsequent blog-post announcement here.

When the course site went live on August 6, we started getting registrations purely by word of mouth and social media announcements. For a self-promoted course, we are very happy with the more than 3,000 registrations.

I will also discuss the pedagogical underpinnings of the course, and how we use and combine various platforms to create pathways for learning and connections among people participating.

What are some other projects you’ve worked on using open learning platforms?

I started sharing videos of my lectures in iTunesU back in 2009, and I used YouTube—where my videos on computational fluid dynamics have collected nearly half a million views. In 2012, I opened up my Piazza class, allowing anyone to enroll and participate on the discussion forum and access posted materials (about 180 people signed up). And I’ve shared educational materials on GitHub since 2013:

CFD Python



You can see Lorena’s MOOC, Practical Numerical Methods with Python hereread more news about the program, and follow Lorena on Twitter.