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Pearson Answers Pointed Questions About Its New Course System, OpenClass

Philadelphia—When Pearson, the giant education publisher, announced last week that it was launching a free, cloud-based learning management system called OpenClass, the news prompted tough questions from college technology officials. Would this system accommodate other popular software? Who would have control, Pearson or the colleges? Would it be hard to integrate the product, which will be released later this year, with a student information system?

Wednesday at Educause, the higher-education technology meeting here, Pearson began answering some of those questions—although some of the answers remained a bit vague. In an early-morning statement, it announced partnerships between OpenClass and Turnitin, the popular plagiarism-detection software, and CourseSmart, the e-textbook and digital course materials company. As for some of the other queries, The Chronicle put them to Matt Leavy, chief executive of Pearson eCollege. Here’s what he had to say:

Will colleges be able to control how OpenClass is upgraded and whether to accept new features? Mr. Leavy said that because OpenClass is hosted by Pearson, it can change quickly as a system and put in small upgrades rapidly. “With that said, we also recognize that it’s important to allow institutions and professors to have control over when and how things do change in the learning environment,” Mr Leavy continued. “For that reason, many of the updates we release in OpenClass will be done through an ‘opt in’ process.  We’ll let customers know when new features are available so they can try them out and ultimately decide when they’re ready to adopt them.”

What about ease of importing and exporting content? Will OpenClass use industry standards for this? The Pearson system will use standards developed by the education community, Mr. Leavy said, specifically ones with names and abbreviations that only a CIO could love, like the Sharable Content Object Reference Model (Scorm),  IMS, and Common Cartridge; the important thing about these systems isn’t the names but that they make it possible to exchange information between systems made by different companies.

Can OpenClass be integrated into a college’s student information system simply, since those systems are key to instructors and usually governed by an institution’s security policies as well as federal privacy laws? “We are committed to providing a platform that is open to integration at many levels—including student information systems,” said Mr. Leavy. And Pearson intends to do that using the standards just mentioned, he noted.

Of course, the gap between good intentions and good implementation has swallowed many software packages. Whether OpenClass leaps deftly across it or stumbles and falls will start to become clear in a few months, when Pearson releases documentation for all these features—and rolls out the system itself.

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