Jupyter-Based Courses in Open edX: Authoring and Grading with Notebooks

Prof. Lorena Barba, from GW, presented on May 30 at the Open edX Conference two software extensions (XBlocks) to better integrate Jupyter into the Open edX platform:

  1. Jupyter Notebook Viewer XBlock—from any public Jupyter Notebook (e.g., in a public repo on GitHub), pull content into a course learning sequence using only the URL, and optional start and end marks (any string from the first cell to include, and the first cell to exclude).This allows course authors to develop their course content as Jupyter Notebooks, and to build learning sequences reusing that content, without duplication. It also has the added benefit that the development of the material can be hosted on a version-controlled repository. (Open edX, itself, doesn’t provide version control of course content.)[See IBL’s post about the XBlock, and the code repository—the XBlock is open source under a BSD3 license.]
  2. Graded Jupyter Notebook XBlock—create an assignment using the nbgrader Jupyter extension, then insert a graded sub-section in Open edX that will deliver this assignment (as a download), auto-grade the student’s uploaded solution, and record the student’s score in the gradebook.The XBlock instantiates a Docker container with all the required dependencies, runs nbgrader on the student-uploaded notebook, and displays immediate feedback to the student in the form of a score table.[See IBL’s post, and the code repository—the XBlock is open source under BSD3.]

Prof. Barba has been teaching with Jupyter for the last five years. Her first open teaching module using Jupyter was “CFD Python”, released in July 2013. In 2014, Barba developed and taught the first massive open online course (MOOC) at the George Washington University: “Practical Numerical Methods with Python.” The course was written entirely as Jupyter Notebooks, and it was self-hosted on a custom Open edX site (where it amassed more than 8000 users over 3 years).

Jupyter is a set of open-source tools for interactive and exploratory computing. At the center of them is the Jupyter Notebook, a document format for writing narratives that interleave multi-media content with executable code, using any of a set of available languages (of which Python is the most popular).

The work presented at the conference is the brainchild of Prof. Lorena Barba, implemented by her tech partners at IBL Education.