Last month the Open edX conference took place in San Diego, California: the annual conference is the occasion for the Open edX community to gather, exchange ideas and learn about the latest gossip (some of it technical) from the edX team. It’s a great event! I’m all for remote work and asynchronous communication, but the fun stuff only occurs when you actually meet in person. It’s the energy and the cool people that have motivated me to remain in the Open edX community for the past couple years.
This year, I was presenting Tutor to the community. First, in the form of a 3-hour long tutorial created in partnership with Lawrence McDaniel and Luiz Aoqui. This happened right at the beginning of the conference, which was a great way to create some interest which would develop over the following days. Then I did a lightning talk which I designed as an introduction to Tutor that I could simply add to the FAQ of the official documentation.
In a word, let’s just say that the reaction was fantastic. From large companies to independent consultants, universities and Open edX hosting providers, and even the core edX technical team, everyone wants a bite of Tutor. I must admit it was hard not to blush when Tutor got featured on that very large screen right in the middle of the opening conference keynote…
I couldn’t attend all the presentations, obviously, but here are the ones that I enjoyed most:
- The State of the Open edX Platform, Marco Morales, Mark Haseltine, Nimisha Asthagiri: this presentation is held every year and it’s good way to keep an eye on the evolutions of the Open edX project even for outsiders.
- Richie: building an open source CMS & course catalog for Open edX, David Truong, Mehdi Benadda: built by my former team at FUN, Richie is an open source, lightweight course catalog that is (IMHO) much more powerful than the default course catalog that ships with edx-platform.
- Get Started with Figures, John Baldwin: this open source project from Appsembler is poised to replace the official analytics pipeline for many use cases.
- Blockstore architecture, Braden MacDonald, David Ormsbee: Blockstore will eventually replace the XModule and XBlock runtime, which is a large and important part of the Open edX code, so it’s good to early on what are the plans for the migration.
The videos from the talks are not online, yet, but they should be published in the coming days. Stay tuned!
Now, in most conferences, the most interesting stuff does not happen during the presentations, but close to the cocktail table, in interactions with other participants. The conversations I had about Tutor convinced me that this was a project that was worth developing further. So, in the coming weeks, I am going to drop my other professional activities and dedicate 100% of my time to Tutor. The objective is to make Tutor the golden standard for Open edX distribution. To do so, Tutor must remain 100% open source and evolve into a viable business. What does that mean in terms of features and future goals? Here are the items on my roadmap, sorted by decreasing priority:
- Make Kubernetes a first-class deployment target for Open edX: we have demonstrated that Tutor is a great solution for single-server deployment; now we must extend the same principles to deployment at scale, and Kubernetes is the current standard adopted by the devops community for deployment of containerized applications. Kubernetes support is currently an alpha feature in Tutor. Tutor must now conform to the industry best practices to make it possible to deploy Open edX at scale, easily and reliably.
- Create a plugin system for Tutor: there are hundreds of third-party xblocks, applications and themes developed by the Open edX community, but no easy way to distribute them. Usually, customising an Open edX platform requires forking the edx-platform repo, modifying the deployment scripts and manually testing version compatibility. This complex process handicaps the Open edX community as a whole, as many innovations do not spread, stop short of the critical mass and end up being abandoned by the original developers for lack of success. With a standard, well-documented plugin system, Tutor can become an efficient distribution vector for third-party applications. Adding a new xblock, theme or analytics app to a running platform could be as simple as running
tutor plugin install myplugin. This is currently a work-in-progress; technically speaking, I’m drawing inspiration from the plugin systems for Wordpress, Discourse and Helm.
- Grow the team: I realise that as a single developer, I cannot offer technical support and SLA to large platforms. So in the coming months, I am going to bring new partners on board to help me develop and offer support on Tutor.
This is going to be exciting! I returned from California with many crazy ideas and great memories. Unfortunately, I destroyed my phone in a mountain bike crash so I don’t have any picture to share. The photos from that swimming pool party are
fortunately lost forever (right Silvio?). The only one I have was taken by Mehdi, during the developer days, when the Open edX developers pledged to kill dead code by destroying a zombie piñata…
See you next year on the old continent, in Lisbon!