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Stanford Report, July 9, 2003

University makes computer code for online course management system public

Stanford University has announced the Open Source release of CourseWork, a simple-to-use, robust course management system that allows faculty to develop and present online instructional materials. It is also scalable, making it suitable for any size educational institution. The Open Source release makes the code available at no charge for any school to install and customize.

Developed by Stanford's Academic Computing group, CourseWork has been officially used by the campus since January 2002 and is being rapidly adopted by faculty in a wide range of academic disciplines. In spring 2003, it supported over 12,000 users of more than 400 course websites. CourseWork allows faculty to create course home pages, send e-mail announcements, develop syllabi and schedules, distribute and evaluate assignments, organize course materials and manage grades.

A pre-release version of CourseWork was tested this year by several colleges and universities. "Faculty members, both those familiar with commercial course management systems and those new to such tools, were able to develop effective online courses with a minimum of training and ongoing support," said Scott Siddall, assistant provost for instructional resources at Denison University. "Our students were able to navigate CourseWork after a 15-minute introduction. What impressed us the most was how the students quickly focused on course content rather than the tool, which is the goal after all."

CourseWork allows institutions to integrate their course websites with their campus registrar's database, student information system, library systems and other campus-specific infrastructure systems. Institutions adopting CourseWork can modify its tools to better fit their teaching mission, or add new tools for different functionality. The CourseWork interface also can be freely modified to match the look of an institution's existing websites, unrestricted by the constraints of proprietary systems.

Stanford intends to continue development of CourseWork as a modular, standards-based framework for course management. "We hope to build a community of developers and users around the world who will create additions and extensions to CourseWork that can be shared with everyone to help enhance online teaching and learning opportunities," said Lois Brooks, Stanford's director of academic computing. The university is currently developing the Assignment and Assessment Manager -- an addition to CourseWork that provides sophisticated tools for online assignments and exams. It will be released next year.

CourseWork uses application program interfaces developed as part of the Open Knowledge Initiative (OKI) project. The OKI project initially was funded in part by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The Mellon Foundation also has directly and generously supported the development of CourseWork and the Assignment and Assessment Manager.