Wednesday, July 7, 2010

This Blog is no longer updated. For more information on ASSISTments go to and see the Teacher WIKI. There you will find information about the project as well as directions on how to make an account and use the system.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Bugfixes for the beginning of school

There were some issues with our last release, but tonight we fixed some of the major ones ... just in time for school! Teacher's will be visiting WPI tomorrow (Thursday), so we should be getting some great feedback. Thanks to everyone spending time on this update ... I think we have a little bit more work in making our deployment process better =)

Monday, August 20, 2007

State of Assistment: August 2007

  • The first "State of Assistment"! - Monthly letter to keep a clear Assistment's vision clear.
  • The "good/bad" old days - Thank you to the people who realized we needed a change and a quick history of how we got here.
  • What to expect from v3 - Quick releases - monthly feature updates / Changes from the user point-of-view.
  • How Close Are We? - Pending issues: A couple small issues (more IE6 fixes, tutor extensions rendering fixes for effort bar and feedback, and general interface cleaning),
    and a new feature (resuming assistments ... abe and I are working on it).
  • Where do we go from here? - Versioning, Tutor Calculator, cleaner content, and more interface updates / Infrastructure updates.

The first "State of Assistment"!

Woohoo! This is "State of Assistment ", the first of many letters/rants/musings I will write to the team. How often? Not sure, but once per release (roughly once a month) is what I'm thinking now. The purpose of this is to keep the vision of Assistment fresh in every one's mind, introduce new ideas, and ultimately guide Assistment along it's newfangled "Productization" path. (Remember when I thought I made up the word "productization"? They use it all the time here ... go figure).

These might get obscenely long as a lot of content may pile up over the month ... so I will rely on you all to tell me what's interesting to you, what you want to hear me rant about, or how you think this is "completely worthless and just my vain efforts to stick around and not let my baby go" ... umm, yes, that's a quote from myself. Hopefully it will be more valuable than that ... but again, help me make this useful to you.

The "good/bad" old days

I'm happy I never had to touch the old system. I'm also sadistically happy some folks were around that had touched the old system too much ... or possibly had the old system inappropriately touch them. Not only did they help preserve the original vision, but more importantly they were the loudest voice for why the system needed to change.

All the code you use and the UI you see today was created during that time, and the v2 system tucked away for nostalgia. I started off as a UI designer, but also started prototyping a new Assistment Builder in Rails. After convincing the leadership that Rails could save Assistment, Darren Torpey and I wrote the Assistment v3 0.1, a early prototype to show that this conversion was possible. After monthly releases, school testings, and a bunch of new developers, we are on the verge of releasing v3.

What to expect from v3

With the Java system [almost] behind us, what should we expect from this new version? What should our users expect?

First off, feature-release should be a much quicker process. The Assistment system should get new features/updates every month. Of course, this statement makes assumptions about the size of the feature, and that we have enough students working, but that's fine ... your released features shouldn't be that huge. However, this amount of time allows for features to be released in a stable, tested fashion; no more should we accept Assistment crashing for a class or students seeing error messages.

Version 3 is not just a technical rebirth, but a rethinking of everything that Assistment was. A completely new User Interface and new ways thinking about content and tutoring are really what make this version what it is. Our current users will find the new system much more intuitive, requiring little training on how to accomplish their tasks. Content creators will find that creating an assistment/problem set is MUCH quicker and logical than the previous system. Teachers can manage their classes much easier, see how their students are doing (not much change there), and use the system to maintain all their student's grades, even the non-assistment grades. Students will also see a huge difference, with bigger fonts and more logical navigation through their tutoring, hopefully this system will be more effective at tutoring the students.

How Close Are We?

Holy! It's August 20th? How close are we to moving all the classes to version 3??? Other than small bug fixes with visuals (more ie6 fixes, tutor extensions rendering fixes for effort bar and feedback, and general interface cleaning), and a new feature (resuming assistments ... abe and I are working on it), I'm comfortable to say we're almost done. For the rest of this week (8/20-24), most of our work should be focusing identifying any other "show-stopper" issues; it doesn't need to be perfect ... but we need to know what we're slacking on and make the appropriate decisions/trade offs.

Where do we go from here?

Getting to this point has been a great experience, seeing this system grow from "./script/generate model Assistment" to what we've got today. Darren, Abe, and I we're able to get it off the ground, but lots of thanks to Cody, Shane, Elijah, and Ryan for all the cool stuff you're doing and adding more depth to Assistment; I can't wait to see what else you guys will do. Thanks also to the newer developers; you're code will see the light of day very soon. =)

After this release (end of August), what will be deliver in another month? I see this next release as including things such as Versioning, Tutor Calculator, cleaner content, and more interface updates. Also, we should also look at our infrastructure, finding ways to make our setup be as effective as possible (dedicated web-server for static content, database replication, rails page/action caching).

In Conclusion ...

This is a great time to be working on Assistment; we really have a chance to be the best tutoring software out there. I wish I could be in schools seeing students learning from our work, but you'll just have to let me know how it goes. =)

Any Questions? Comments? Suggestions? I hope this was useful/informative to some of you ... at least to convey some sort of consistent direction/vision. Again, if there's anything you'd like me to cover in this, let me know.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Assistment 0.8
Assistment 0.8 has been released! This release has a lot of cool new features, and I'm so excited about them I'm actually going to show you screenshots and walk through them! Sorry, I don't have time to do a walk through now, but I will amend this post in the near future.

1.) Teacher Gradebook and Reports (Thanks Cody and Duc!)
2.) Effort Visualization (Thanks Elijah!)
3.) Content Feedback (Thanks Shane!)
4.) Content Ownership
5.) Curriculum Management (Thanks Shane!)

As always, please visit the SourceForge page to report defects or suggest new features.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Release Hickup

Woops, there's a little issue with the data ... about a 1/3 of the Assistments don't have problem bodies, answers, hints, etc. Abe and I are working on it as we speak; we'll let you know when anything changes.

[edit] Ok, the data issue is fixed ... however the tutor will always give you the second hint when you ask for hints ... I'm not too sure why but it works fine locally ... so I'll have to look into it. [/edit]

Assistment 0.7


Assistment 0.7 is released! We apologize for this long overdue release, but we promise you won't be disappointed! This update includes layout/data fixes, tagging of content, content creation RESTful web service, UI improvements, and the first version of the Gradebook, to name a few.

Over the next two months we will have 2-3 releases up to 1.0; these will include the effort bar, content feedback and sharing, details reports, teacher gradebook, tutor extensions, and better compatibility with Internet Explorer 6-7, and a some other new feature previews.

As always, please visit the SourceForge page to report defects or suggest new features.


PS. If any of you don't know, I am living in Seattle now and I start at Microsoft on Monday. However, since the group I'm working with has nothing to do with tutoring systems ... I'm safe to continue on the project, as I intend to do. Assistment is a one-of-a-kind project, in the tutoring world and in the web application world, and hopefully my future connections can get Assistment more public exposure.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Assistment 0.6

Assistment 0.6 is out! Some of the highlighted features include:

  1. Sequence/Section Builder
  2. Smart Sections which have certain strategies of fetching the next assistment (Thanks Derek):
    1. Linear
    2. RandomChildOrder
    3. NoRepeats
    4. NumericLimit
    5. TemporalLimit
    6. ChooseOne
    7. GroupSequencesFromChild
    8. RandomIterate
  3. Visual improvements/early IE6 student tutoring
  4. Actual Assistment Data! (Thanks Abe and Jozsef!)
    1. Assistments
    2. Users
    3. Schools
    4. Classes
Also, the version numbering scheme has changed to follow the major.minor[.revision[.build]] scheme (check out for more information. We've change the previous versions too, so here's how they map:

0.1 - January Prototype
0.2 - Beta 1
0.3 - Beta 2
0.4 - preRC1
0.5 - RC1
0.6 - RC2