A review of Virtual Labs virtualization solutions for MOOCs

I’ve just uploaded a new memo A review of Virtual Labs virtualization solutions for MOOCs in the form of a page on my blog, before I eventually publish something more elaborated (and valuated by peer review).

The subtitle is “From Virtual Machines running locally or on IaaS, to containers on a PaaS, up to hypothetical ports of tools to WebAssembly for serverless execution in the Web browser

Excerpt from the intro :

In this memo, we try to draw an overview of some benefits and concerns with existing approaches at using virtualization techniques for running Virtual Labs, as distributions of tools made available for distant learners.

We describe 3 main technical architectures: (1) running Virtual Machine images locally on a virtual machine manager, or (2) displaying the remote execution of similar virtual machines on a IaaS cloud, and (3) the potential of connecting to the remote execution of minimized containers on a remote PaaS cloud.

We then elaborate on some perspectives for locally running ports of applications to the WebAssembly virtual machine of the modern Web browsers.

I hope this will be of some interest for some.

Continue reading “A review of Virtual Labs virtualization solutions for MOOCs”

Handling video files produced for a MOOC on Windows with git and git-annex

This post is intended to document some elements of workflow that I’ve setup to manage videos produced for a MOOC, where different colleagues work collaboratively on a set of video sequences, in a remote way.

We are a team of several schools working on the same course, and we have an incremental process, so we need some collaboration over a quite long period of many remote authors, over a set of video sequences.

We’re probably going to review some of the videos and make changes, so we need to monitor changes, and submit versions to colleagues on remote sites so they can criticize and get later edits. We may have more that one site doing video production. Thus we need to share videos along the flow of production, editing and revision of the course contents, in a way that is manageable by power users (we’re all computer scientists, used to SVN or Git).

I’ve decided to start an experiment with Git and Git-Annex to try and manage the videos like we use to do for slides sources in LaTeX. Obviously the main issue is that videos are big files, demanding in storage space and bandwidth for transfers.

Continue reading “Handling video files produced for a MOOC on Windows with git and git-annex”

A howto record a screencast on Linux and tablet

I’ve documented the process of how I’m trying to perform DIY screencast recording, for the needs of a MOOC.

I’m working on my Debian or Ubuntu desktop, using an external graphic tablet with integrated display for annotating slides.

The main software used for the process are xournal for annotating PDFs and vokoscreen for the screen and video recording.

Here is the documentation : http://www-public.telecom-sudparis.eu/~berger_o/screencast-linux.html

And here’s the companion video : https://youtu.be/YxcUNqXPYZE

I hope this is useful to some.

New short paper : “Designing a virtual laboratory for a relational database MOOC” with Vagrant, Debian, etc.

Here’s a short preview of our latest accepted paper (to appear at CSEDU 2015), about the construction of VMs for the Relational Database MOOC using Vagrant, Debian, PostgreSQL (previous post), etc. :

Designing a virtual laboratory for a relational database MOOC

Olivier Berger, J Paul Gibson, Claire Lecocq and Christian Bac

Keywords: Remote Learning, Virtualization, Open Education Resources, MOOC, Vagrant

Abstract: Technical advances in machine and system virtualization are creating opportunities for remote learning to provide significantly better support for active education approaches. Students now, in general, have personal computers that are powerful enough to support virtualization of operating systems and networks. As a conse- quence, it is now possible to provide remote learners with a common, standard, virtual laboratory and learning environment, independent of the different types of physical machines on which they work. This greatly enhances the opportunity for producing re-usable teaching materials that are actually re-used. However, configuring and installing such virtual laboratories is technically challenging for teachers and students. We report on our experience of building a virtual machine (VM) laboratory for a MOOC on relational databases. The architecture of our virtual machine is described in detail, and we evaluate the benefits of using the Vagrant tool for building and delivering the VM.

TOC :

  • Introduction
    • A brief history of distance learning
    • Virtualization : the challenges
    • The design problem
  • The virtualization requirements
    • Scenario-based requirements
    • Related work on requirements
    • Scalability of existing approaches
  • The MOOC laboratory
    • Exercises and lab tools
    • From requirements to design
  • Making the VM as a Vagrant box
    • Portability issues
    • Delivery through Internet
    • Security
    • Availability of the box sources
  • Validation
    • Reliability Issues with VirtualBox
    • Student feedback and evaluation
  • Future work
    • Laboratory monitoring
    • More modular VMs
  • Conclusions

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Testing the RuneStone interactive Python courses server in docker

I’ve been working on setting up a Docker container environment allowing to test the RuneStone Interactive server.

RuneStone Interactive allows the publication of courses containing interactive Python examples, and while most of the content is static (the Python examples are run innside a Python interpreter implemented in JavaScript, hence locally in the JS VM of the Web browser), the tool also offers an environment allowing to monitor the progress of learners in a course, which is dynamic and is queried by the browser over AJAX APIs.

That’s the part which I wanted to be able to operate for test purposes. As it is a web2py application, it’s not exactly obvious to gather all dependencies and run locally. Well, in fact it is, but I want to understand the architecture of the tool to be able to understand the deployment constraints, so making a docker image will help in this purpose.

The result is the following :

Now, it’s easier to test the writing of a new course (yet another container above the latter one), and directly test for real.