edX, the nonprofit massive open online course provider started by Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, made a part of its source code available to the open source programming community on Thursday. Until more of its code is made public, developers won't be able to clone edX, but President Anant Agarwal said this week's release will let everyone get a peek at its architecture. He said the entire software platform will be made available in the "not-too-distant future." After that happens, colleges across the world could adapt edX's work and use it to host courses themselves.
edX's decision to eventually make its underlying software publicly available may differentiate it from other MOOC providers like Coursera and Udacity, which are both for-profit companies. This could do several things. First, the wide availability of edX's code could turn programmers across the world into developers for edX if they make useful plug-ins. It could also allow universities to start their own MOOCs without partnering with edX or one of its competitors. So far, edX has tried to position itself as highly selective and has only a dozen universities hosted on its platform compared to Coursera, which has 62.
Finally, there is at least some enthusiasm in the academic community for edX's open source aspirations. For instance, last month, the University of Toronto started offering courses on edX even though it already had a partnership with Coursera. The university's vice provost of academic programs, Cheryl Regehr, said that was in part because of edX's commitment to open source technology.