Open Source E-Learning Saves Money, Adds Flexibility


Saving students money is just one of our goals as we move some course content into an open-source curriculum program called LON-CAPA (Learning Online Network with Computer-Assisted Personalized Approach).

Screenshot of LON-CAPA Online System

"About 4,500 students enrolled in those courses won't pay for the text or the accompanying WebAssign system, collectively saving up to $1 million," said Benjamin Wiles, then assistant head of the Department of Mathematics.

The software was first developed at Michigan State University in 1992 — before graphical web browsers were widely available and has evolved with digital learning as an open-source educational content platform.

Today LON-CAPA allows instructors to design and share course content including text, videos, homework problems, and exams. In Summer 2015 the Department of Mathematics is using it as the teaching, textbook, homework and exam platform for algebra and applied calculus courses.

MA 16010 LON-CAPA Course Video

"One of the great things about LON-CAPA is that it is flexible and fluid," said Huimei Delgado, continuing lecturer in mathematics. "You can not only design course content to suit the needs of the students, but you can link to lessons in previous courses if students needs a refresher."

Both the program and the content in LON-CAPA is open-source. "It was really useful to be able to use sets that other instructors have created and shared," said Delgado. "That way we saved time developing new problems and could use problem sets already proven to develop student understanding of the material."

There are limits to the using open source however. "If you look at the amount of content freely available on the Web that supports algebra or basic calculus, it's profound," Ben Wiles said. "The higher you go, the less you get. We've looked at the open-source materials for higher-level things and its just not there."

Since the LON-CAPA system supports computer based exams, students in classes that are using this feature will benefit from being able to test in the same environment they learned in, a recognized benefit to recall. For course coordinators and instructors this means being able to save time in the future by developing a test bank. These tests will become more uniform and will make data analysis easier and more thorough.