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Stanford U. Releases New Open-Source Online-Education Platform

Stanford University is continuing a high-profile push into online education with a new open-source platform called Class2Go, which will host two massive open online courses, or MOOC’s, during the fall quarter. Beginning in October, non-Stanford and Stanford students alike will be able to use the platform to take classes on computer networking and on “Solar Cells, Fuel Cells, and Batteries.”

The idea for the software started with a six-member “skunkworks” team in Stanford’s computer-science department, said Jane Manning, product manager for Class2Go. Over the summer, the team built Class2Go using code from Stanford’s existing course-hosting platform, called Courseware, and a similar platform from the nonprofit Khan Academy, along with software for integrated online classroom forums hosted by Piazza. Other colleges may add to the platform or adapt it for their own purposes, said Sef Kloninger, engineering manager for Class2Go.

Stanford already offers MOOC’s through Coursera, a start-up course provider, and through another homegrown platform, called Venture Lab, which attracted 40,000 students to a course on technology entrepreneurship last fall. Developing multiple platforms is a strategic move to study how Stanford can best deliver online education in the long run, Ms. Manning said.

“In this early time, when we’re all learning how to do these classes, it’s important to have different platforms we can experiment on—open source, commercial, closed source,” said Nick W. McKeown, a professor of computer science and electrical engineering who will help teach the course on computer networking. “You want quality content for the course to come first, and then use whatever platform makes sense.”

Along with his co-teacher—Philip A. Levis, an associate professor of computer science and electrical engineering—Mr. McKeown said he would offer the course both free to the world online and to a class of students at Stanford taking it for credit. The paying on-campus students will watch lectures online along with the larger MOOC audience, then use class time to work on interactive exercises and listen to guest speakers.

The project’s future is now under the umbrella of the newly created Office of the Vice Provost for Online Learning. John C. Mitchell, a professor of computer science, took on the role last month to help the university expand its online reach.

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