Taking the lab online: Creative revamp of MOOCs allows for customized lesson plans

The idea to let educators mix-and-match their own free online course from pieces of other courses (MOOCs) comes from Robert Lue, a biology professor at Harvard University. His new platform, called LabXchange, aims to overcome an obstacle that, from Lue’s perspective, is a barrier to the MOOC promise to educate the general public. As founding faculty director of HarvardX, the university’s effort to build MOOCs, Lue found that large courses are “relatively unwieldly.”

“The course was actually starting to get in the way,” he told EdSurge. As a solution, Lue created LabXchange to allow for customized consolidation of material to match the facilitator’s nuanced lesson plan. Future versions of the platform could even include “adaptive learning features that would offer students different material based on their demonstrated skill level.” To start, LabXchange, as implied by its name, “will focus on specific disciplines, starting with biology and biotechnology.”

Robert Lue, lead developer of LabXchange.

The platform will essentially operate as an extensive collection of shared raw educational material, including videos, text descriptions, infographics, simulations, case studies, and assessments. From a simple keyword search, educators  will be able to hand-pick desired content (including the creator’s own) from the filtered search results. The educator would then “drop these [materials] into a learning pathway, [and] resequence them the way [they] want to,” Lue says. The final product is a unique web address, linked to a “mini-MOOC—perfectly customized with your content and other content out there.” Based on this model, “users will be able to…create their own storylines, clarify new learning objectives, and adapt existing pathways to better meet their needs.” Because the platform is built on top of the open-source software released by edX, it will be free for anyone to use.

Last week, the SDG Academy and LabXchange signed a Memorandum of Understanding to solidify a partnership between both parties. LabXchange provides a unique opportunity to advance the SDG Academy’s mission in extending the global distribution of accessible educational material surrounding the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Specific opportunities for the partnership include content curation, supporting distribution of knowledge about the SDGs, and suggestions on technical enhancement. The SDG Academy’s vision for the partnership with LabXchange is rooted at an institutional level, requiring both parties to work together to identify new areas of growth for the platform that are mutually beneficial. The SDG Academy looks forward to exploring these possibilities with LabXchange, in a united effort to help students “take control of their learning and solve real-world problems together.” 

The LabXchange platform is under construction, and is expected to be released in September 2019.