Estimating Costs for an Open edX Deployment on AWS

We’re often asked about hosting costs by our clients. We typically set up the Amazon AWS environment on the customer’s AWS account.

However there is no single answer about costs: they can vary depending on the number of users, security requirements and use of additional features like Open edX Insights.

Here’s a cost template to help you plan your Amazon AWS spend for your Open edX instance.

AR/VR, Robots, Drones… 6 Emerging Technologies and their Applications


As the saying goes, the only constant in life is change. As with technology, the landscape is constantly evolving too. It is amazing to see the speed at which technology has pushed its boundaries to create new value and transform experiences for both businesses and consumers.

Here’s a look at the top 6 technological trends we have observed to be transforming the way we work and live, along with some use-cases to help convey their applicability. For the entrepreneurs reading this, consider thinking about how you might leverage these technologies to super-charge your business.

1. Drones

Drones are unmanned aerial devices that can fly or move without an onboard human pilot. They can operate autonomously via inbuilt computers and travel on a predetermined flight plan that is controlled remotely or directed manually. The presence of drones can potentially impact a larger segment of the courier industry and support a new phase of digital business. Just Imagine receiving your Amazon delivery at your doorstep via this nifty flying vehicle.

Potential Industries: Precision farming, Cargo delivery, Railway safety, Construction site management

Use Case: Medical Supplies in Rwanda
The government of Rwanda partnered up with Silicon Valley startup, Zipline to deliver medical supplies to 5 of its hospitals. The drones can transport up to 150 deliveries per day and have reduced the duration of a single delivery from 4 hours to 15 mins.

2. blockchain

In layman’s terms, Blockchain is a system which functions as a self-auditing network of information. It uses a network of computing nodes to document the value of transactions sequentially in “blocks” across a database that can be shared among multiple parties simultaneously.

Rather than persisting a central system of record, the information is kept public and hosted concurrently by multiple computers, allowing it to be easily accessible and verifiable. This increase in transparency makes the Blockchain system more credible than other similar systems, and reduces business friction as a result. Another way to think of Blockchain is as a shared Google Document for digital transaction records.

Potential Industries: Peer to Peer transactions, Supply chain auditing, Governance, Data management, File storage, Stock trading

Use Case: Host and Guest Integrity on Airbnb
Guests can easily verify a host’s credibility by checking their ID number as r
epresentations of people’s online identities are stored on a Blockchain. Unlike Facebook, users cannot delete their accounts and re-register if they receive unfavorable reviews, as records on Blockchain cannot be tampered with.

3. Automation: Robots

Don’t worry, robots are not taking over the world (yet), but a world with robots automating human-exclusive tasks does not seem that far away. Robots are electro-mechanical machines or virtual agents that assist humans with their daily activities autonomously or through a set of instructions set by a computer program. As much as they have the ability to improve productivity, the implication of robots lowering the employment rate is also a cause for concern by some groups.

Potential Industries: Manufacturing, Service industry, Hazardous industries, Hotels and tourism, Automation of predictable tasks

Use case: Automated News in China
A publishing company in China, Southern Metropolis Daily, has published its first robot-written report that summarized the train transportation schedules during the Lunar New Year and advised readers on recommended routes to travel.​

4. IOT

IOT (Internet of Things) is a network of internet-connected objects, devices and vehicles that are able to collect and exchange data using embedded sensors. This technology links all our devices together and makes them hum in a veritable technological harmony. As a result, we are able to collect and exchange data seamlessly across devices over the internet, control the devices and monitor them remotely.

Potential Industries: Inventory and material tracking, Real-time asset monitoring, Customer self service, Data integration and analytics, Real-time market insights, Dynamic billing and pricing application

Use Case: Smart Homes by Samsung
Samsung’s SmartThings system helps households automate their in-home devices. It allows users to control lights, locks, plugs, thermostats, cameras and speakers from a centralized location like your phone.

5. Augmented Reality and Virtual reality (AR/VR)

Most people first experienced the wonders of AR through Pokemon Go, which had over 100 million downloads. AR (Augmented Reality) enables blending of the real and virtual world via a graphic and/or audio overlay through a supplemental device. This is not to be confused with VR (Virtual Reality), which is a computer-generated simulation of a 3-dimensional image or a complete surrounding within an enclosed space, usually requiring tools such as a VR helmet or headset.

Both AR and VR create an immersive environment and are transforming the way individuals interact with each other. Although most devices are still in early-stage development, enterprises can anticipate targeted applications of VR and AR in the coming years.

Potential Industries: Immersive journalism, Virtual workplaces, Architecture/construction, education and training, Entertainment, Healthcare, Merchandising

Use Case: Physical to Digital Bridge for Brands by Blippar
Blippar has developed an Augmented Reality platform, pioneering a solution for brands to create augmented digital experiences through a scan of an image or a logo. More recently, it developed a ‘visual browser’ which allows users to scan the real world around them and receive a layer of information about objects and places in their surroundings.

6. AI and machine learning

AI (Artificial Intelligence) is an umbrella concept that is made up of numerous subfields such as machine learning and natural language processing. It encompasses a combination of extensive parallel processing power, massive data sets to feed its software algorithms and advanced systems that can teach themselves to become more intelligent.

By leveraging AI, providers can focus more on advanced analytics, streamline business processes and create more conversational interfaces. Gartner predicts by 2018, the world’s largest 200 companies will be leveraging intelligent apps for their various offerings.

Potential Industries: Managing personal finances, Automated virtual assistance, Real time fraud and risk management, Data analytics and advanced analytics, Customer support, Transactions and helpdesks.

Use case: Intelligent Routing for Uber and Lyft
These ride-sharing applications use machine learning to predict rider demand and arrival times of rides, and optimally plan routes across passengers to minimize detours.

The tech industry is constantly progressing and making predictions about the course of its future is no trivial task. Disruptive technologies and their application can sometimes gain rapid recognition and acceleration, making it a moving target. However it is important to be aware of the state of the industry and attempt to foresee the most likely technologies to be adopted next.  This could prove pivotal in helping to catch the wave of the next billion dollar business opportunity.

How we integrated Discourse with Open edX for a more Collaborative Learning Experience

What was the Challenge?

Our customers needed help in creating an efficient edX learning platform that prioritized peer-to-peer interaction and social learning, f

ocusing more on cross-course collaboration instead of course specific collaboration.

What we Researched

Online courses offer the opportunity to create a highly social learning environment and participating in group discussions have shown to help students to learn better through the concept of Community of Inquiry (CoI). This concept explains that the key indicators of a successful online learning environment are – Social Presence (ability of learners to project their personal characteristics through debates and discussions), Teaching Presence (having teachers to give directions and provide learning contents) and Cognitive Presence (ability for participants to construct meaning through knowledge exchange and collaboration).

What we Discovered

We observed that Open edX’s current default discussion feature provides a basic solution to facilitate interaction between students and it enables learners to experience Social Presence and Teaching Presence, however it needs a more engaging cross-course collaboration tool with a wider scope for students to learn better through improved Cognitive Presence.

Our Methodology

  1. We researched various third-party tools that integrated well with Open edX for richer discussions and these tools include Google Groups, Discourse, Django BB, Misago, Machina and Slack.
  2. We concluded that Discourse is the most suitable tool to encourage active cross-course discussions. If you want to know more about the metrics we used for course comparison, view our detailed analysis here.  

Our Technical Approach: How we integrated Discourse with Open edX

We carried out the following steps towards integrating Discourse with Open edX

  1. Deployed a separate instance of discourse
  2. Changed the theme in order to make it look more consistent with the rest of the Open edX platform
  3. Made it more amenable to an embedded user experience by changing the layout of the Discourse page. For eg. eliminating the Top Navigation
  4. Packaged this Discourse Customization as a Discourse Plugin:
  5. Created groups on the platform based on themes given by our clients – planned leadership, regional and cross-functional group
  6. Pre-registered users using their emails on the Discourse platform. We plan to automate this in the future via Google Single Sign-on which auto-provision users through login
  7. Added users to their respective groups
  8. Used Google oAuth to enable single sign feature where users can use their Google account to login to their Open edX account.
  9. Integrated Discourse homepage under a special cross-course Discussion tab as an iFrame. Tip: To enable embedding of such nature, change the xFrame settings on the Discourse server
  10. Created a widget from Discourse’s ‘recent discussions’ feed and integrated it on the main Dashboard homepage. This allows users to see information about their discussion activity without having to specifically visit the Discussions tab
  11. Integrated Discourse notifications into the main Open edX top nav notifications, federated with the standard Open edX notifications

What were the results?

We were able to create an efficient collaborative tool that allowed learners to interact and discuss about what they learned from different courses. Cross-course communication has proved to be valuable in helping learners to learn more effectively and we managed to achieve our customer’s goal of creating a productive edX learning platform through Open edX – Discourse integration.