.LRN: An Open Source Approach to Educational Technology Innovation

Thursday, September 23, 2004 - 7:00pm
Al Essa, MIT Sloan School

Universities have a mission to create, preserve, and disseminate knowledge. In realizing that mission, we face significant cultural, legal, economic, and technical pressures. The intellectual commons can be defined as "that shared wellspring of ideas and innovation from which all may freely draw" and its intent is to counteract regimes of control and replace them with regimes of opportunity. The approach to educational technology innovation at MIT seeks to advance the intellectual commons by developing and freely sharing "open content" and "open code". This talk describes MIT's approach to educational technology innovation by examining underlying principles, specifying technical architecture, and demonstrating specific projects. We focus in particular on .LRN, an open source project and platform for supporting innovation in collaborative education and learning and research communities. Originally developed at MIT as part of the intellectual commons, .LRN is now backed by a worldwide consortium of educational institutions, non-profit organizations, industry partners and open source developers. This meeting is cosponsored by the IEEE Computer Society and IEEE Education Society.

Lecturer Biography: 

Al Essa is Chief Information Officer (CIO) at MIT's Sloan School of Management. As CIO, he is responsible for providing overall leadership, management, and strategy for MIT Sloan's information technology and educational technology operations and initiatives. Mr. Essa is also founder and Chair of the Board of Directors of the .LRN project (pronounced "dot Learn"), an open-source initiative in educational technology. .LRN capabilities today include course management, online communities, learning management, and content management applications. In addition, .LRN provides a powerful framework and tools for quickly innovating on these applications and building customized solutions. Together these capabilities support the complete online environment for learning communities and communities of practice in higher education, K-12, government, and non-profit organizations, with total cost of ownership significantly lower than custom or commercial solutions. Mr. Essa is also the Principal Investigator of iLearn, a research effort to explore next generation frameworks for e-Learning. iLearn is funded by iCampus, an MIT-Microsoft Research Alliance. At MIT, he also participates as a member of several working groups on technology architecture, including the Information Technology Architecture Group (iTAG) and the Education Technology Architecture Group (eTAG). Mr. Essa holds a BA (High Honors, Magna Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa) from Haverford College and an MA and M.Phil from Yale University. He completed doctoral course work at Yale University, where he served as an instructor in the Yale Directed Studies ("Honors") Program. He has also taught graduate computer science at the New York Institute of Technology. In 1982, he was selected as a Thomas J. Watson Fellow.