Ask the Technical Oversight Committee Anything

We wanted to create a thread where members of the Open edX community could ask questions about the Technical Oversight Committed (TOC). It’s a relatively new addition to the Open edX governance structures. You can read about the impetus for this group and its charter here.

There are bound to be community questions, so feel free to ask us anything.

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Also on this topic, there have been some discussions and presentation about the TOC during the last two contributor meetups – there are some notes in the thread, but you can also watch the video recording. For the one from yesterday @jalondonot will post the notes & recording in the coming days.

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Working on it! hope to get them ready by Friday :slight_smile:

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I’m not sure this is a relevant question but I’ll try my luck :slight_smile: Where do you hope to see Open edX in the next 3 to 5 years? What needs to happen to get there?

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Let’s see, and for the record, I’m speaking as a member of the TOC, but not for the TOC.

I am thinking of three main areas of focus for the next 3-5 years.

  1. Evolving the project to be community led and sustainable
  2. Simplifying the software so that it’s easier to understand, extend, and adopt
  3. Building the platform capabilities needed to support personalization at scale

This could be a very long response, but here are the things that I think we need at a very high level.

For (1), we need to increase the elephant factor of the project by scaling both the number of participants and the rate at which participants contribute.

For (2), we need to identify some key ways we can reduce the complexity of the Open edX platform. I think there are a number of initiatives, including Tutor, that help here. Others include, rebooted documentation, Hooks and Signals, work around the Learning Core, standards adoption, conformant RESTful APIs, etc.

For (3), I believe that the holy grail of educational technology is personalized learning at scale. In order to develop the innovations that will make that possible, the Open edX platform will have to be a learning laboratory at massive scale. In order to facilitate genuine experimentation and research for personalized learning at scale, the platform will need investment in a number of critical capabilities. Two that I have been focusing on are content modularity and learning analytics. For me, they are the fulcrum and lever for personalization at scale and they unlock a world of future experimentation.

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I have been recently working on an article for my personal site about the history of the Open edX platform (I haven’t published it yet). And what I found during going over the commits of edx-platform repo. Is that 70% percent of all commits came only of 10% commiters, which I think wasn’t very good news[1] since most of those 70% are affliated with mostly one orgnization… Below is the chart
edx-platform-commits

Edit: I published the article at: A brief history of the Open edX platform.


  1. I mean not say its not good at all, but one can’t naturally assume the contribution of a single entity would always align with others. ↩︎

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+1 to your goals @e0d – these would be very good indeed. :+1:

A few additional or complementary goals on my side – getting to a point where:

  • We would have fixed the fact that we have a large and active community, but comparatively very few really active contributors, outside of edX/2U and tCRIL.

    We are not lacking good developers and contributors in the community, but since they are almost all employed by organizations who control their time, the organizations are the ones who need to provide it. And many organizations still have the “tragedy of the commons” mindset: being hesitant to contribute employees time to the project, since that’s a more long-term investment in the project with less immediate impact on the bottom line than client work, and because it looks like someone else will do it anyway.

    Some of this is related to increasing the elephant factor, as having one entity doing most of the work works against this. The sharing of decision power is key, to give more space as well as concrete motivation for contributing – but we’ll also need to learn to collaborate more as a community. To start thinking about Open edX as our project, not someone else’s, and that we take care of it together. If everyone commits a similar significant effort, proportionally to their capacity, we’ll all be in a much better place in 5 years.

  • We would have become better at starting projects at the community level, and reducing the degree of duplication. Currently, a lot of the contributions are “solo” projects, where a single organization decides to create and contribute it, and often outside of the project itself. So there is often very little upfront collaboration about it, resulting in multiple duplicate projects which are not as rich and well maintained as they could be if we worked together from the beginning (eg. analytics, Kubernetes for Tutor, etc.). It’s much harder to change minds and direction once the code is done.

  • We would have become closer to the users, as a project – both instructors and learners. An open source project offers ways to involve users more, and it’s critical for any software project to be attuned to the users’ needs. Whenever a learner get an issue or a need, there should be a better way for that user to pass on that information – to influence the project, or even become active in the community themselves, to help to solve that need.

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Hi Xavier!
I fully agree with your points. However, let me add a perspective from a small or medium size contributor organization.

It’s not really that we are hesitant to assign employees. The point is that we do not have, or have very limited spare resources to offer to the community. Of course, we are not talking about small bug fixes or improvements, which is not the problem. These few resources are fully funded by our business, and we are many times competing with solutions like Moodle or even Wordpress plugins…
Most of us, small or medium startup companies, have very limited access to the “big customers” that would afford spare resources that we could assign to give back to the community. So the few resources that the customers can afford, are certainly dedicated to what it takes to sustain this business. And this is something that tCRIL, being the owner of the Open edX brand, can help: breaking the vicious circle of the big customers feeding the big elephants.

Fully agree with that. Let me give you two big examples: e-commerce and analytics. It’s been a long time since these component do not meet our customer’s needs. So each of us had to make our best to give a service, leading to multiple solutions. But again, it’s not a problem of mindset, but of giving value to our customers.
There is one good example: Tutor. We should learn from how was Tutor chosen as the official installation method, and do the same with other aspects of the platform.
IMO, tCRIL should take the lead and define the way to go.

Absolutely. And also platform administrators. IMO, the product roadmap (including the deprecation process) should be driven from the user’s (and not the developer’s) perspective.

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As a small operator with a relatively minimal team, 1 technical ressource full time (me), 1 technical ressource half-time and 2 other ressources handling email support and interfacing with our instructional designers and other ressources creating the courses, I couldn’t agree more with what @andres wrote. Especially the part about Insights and e-commerce.

It’s also a huge challenge trying to participate or following all working groups to be kept informed of everything that is going in the community. As a result, I have to make choices and get involved only in some working groups and loosely follow the others. It may not be an issue for large providers like OpenCraft or eduNEXT or others, but it is definitely a challenge for small time operators, even if you are there from almost the start.

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