What’s new in Open edX Juniper

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The Open edX platform is in constant evolution, in June 2020, its 10th release called Juniper was announced and the next release will likely see the light before the year is over. 

The Juniper release of the Open edX platform is the largest one so far and one of the most complex. It comes with a number of changes and improvements over Ironwood. We have been experimenting, installing, and using this new release for a few months, and In this article, you will find a detailed description of the major changes we’ve found for the different roles interacting in the platform.

When relevant, we will highlight the differences between the Juniper release and the previous stable release (Ironwood).

Learners experiences

Sign up and registration forms.

For the signup and registration pages there used to be two different implementations and each site was configured to use one or the other. Starting in juniper, the older implementation has been removed, so the login and registration page may have slight changes, but the functionality will remain the same.

Course outline navigation

The course outline navigation has been modified to simplify the learner navigation and show the most relevant information. Previously, the navigation included sections, subsections, and units, but now only sections and subsections are displayed.
Graded subsections now appear highlighted with an icon, the assignment type they are graded by, and the number of graded problems in the subsection.

Ironwood

Juniper

Multiple Teams for one learner

Learners can now join more than one team in a given course.

Content search improvement

The content search feature has been enhanced for larger courses and instances enabling better performance while finding results.

Discussion Forum Daily Digests + Notifier Service:

This feature (which was not included in eduNEXT cloud subscriptions) has been deprecated and disabled in Juniper due to a few technical issues that created instability and little adoption.

Learners experiences - Micro Frontends (MFEs)​

A very significant transformation is taking place in the platform starting from the Juniper release and it has to do with the way that many of the learner facing pages are built. In fact, the juniper release is advancing the platform architecture and underlying technology components and achieving some very important stepping stones that will enable a progressive transition to a new front end architecture based on what is called Micro Front-ends of MFE.

A micro frontend is a small independent front end application that is in charge of rendering one specific page. The technology stack behind the MFE is different and the team at edX has taken this opportunity to redesign the user experience as these new MFE are being built.
Juniper ships with the first Micro frontends, replacing some key learner facing pages, such as:

  • Learner profile page
  • The account page
  • Learners course progress

This new approach also affects the way the applications are hosted and the pages URL, this is why the edx.org platform now includes URLs such as:

With the new MFEs, the pages will not only be visually redesigned but will also have some additional functionality that has been highlighted in the Juniper release notes, for example:

  • Personalized schedules. The course outline page will present recommended dates and timelines for the courses based on the date of enrollment, including a full-page dates view. These schedules will be customizable based on the start date of a particular course.
  • Course learning sequence redesign. The learning sequence is being modernized and overhauled. A new home icon is being added for extra clarity and the sequence mobile layout is being improved. Finally, the Previous and Next buttons are being modified to be clearer at the end of the sequence.
  • Visual course progress. The green checkmarks indicating progress will be improved.
  • Course Welcome & Updates. The welcome messages will be limited to a fixed number of lines, with a “Show More” action for longer posts.
  • Bookmarks, notes, and calculator will be updated in the new MFE framework.
  • Account settings page improvements. This includes a new field for an email recovery address, additional language support, a switch back to English option, and a redesigned order history page. 

We have been engaging actively with edX and the Open edX community in advancing the MFEs implementation, but there are some challenges that need to be overcome before migrating to the MFE framework in the community version of the Open edX platform.  Therefore, implementing MFEs in Juniper is still not advised. For eduNEXT’s cloud-based subscriptions, we are already contributing effort towards having MFEs in the next release and we are building our branding and configuration capabilities for the MFE framework in order to be able to offer these capabilities very soon.

Authors experience

Course outline improvement

Authors can now change the unit name directly from the course outline page.

New Unit Navigation options

There are a few changes in the ways authors can navigate between unit pages in STUDIO.

  • A breadcrumb with dropdown selectors has been added on top of each unit page in STUDIO to allow easier navigation to any other subsection of the course.
  • A new representation of the learner-facing sequence bar was introduced to the unit page in STUDIO so authors can now navigate easily from the unit pages before or after the one they are currently authoring. In this new bar, authors can also create new units facilitating the content creation process.

Ironwood

Juniper

Component title editor


A new component editing window is available to display name editing, so it is no longer necessary to go to the settings tab to update the display name.

Enhanced Basic Problem Editor

The basic problem editor now has a more usable Markdown help to assist authors when creating different types of problems.

Enhanced Advanced Problem - Staff graded points

A feature long time wanted by many online course operators had been the ability to manually grade multiple students at the same time.
To cover this use case, there is a new Advanced problem type called Staff graded points.

The setup is very simple as it only requires the component name, number of points, and some instructions for the student. When the time comes for the instructors to grade the set of learners, they can download one CSV file with the list of learners and the space to fill in the grades.
Finally, this modified file can be uploaded back into the platform and the grades for each learner will be recorded as they were entered in the CSV file.

Advanced Problem - Python evaluated input

Since this new release is build in Python 3, custom graders built in python, which runs the grading code in CodeJail will now require to be built in python 3. Make sure to test the functionality and adjust when required if you are using this kind of advanced component.

Improvements to the Teams application

The teams’ application has been modified to allow for new use cases:

  • Multiple Team Support: It will now be possible for learners to join more than one team in a given course.
  • Private Teams: Private team topics will allow for teams that are not viewable to learners so that team members and course staff can have a place to collaborate and discuss privately.
  • Team Assignments: Educators can now create team assignments, enabling a team of students to collaborate on the assignment and submit a team response through an Open Response Assessment problem. This ORA problem will be linked to the team and the submission from any of the team members will receive a grade and feedback that will be applied to all team members.

Some of these functionalities were developed during the timeframe where juniper was being cut, so they may not be fully documented or operational yet, especially the team assignments capability. We will be adding support to this feature in the future.

LMS Instructor dashboard

New Role: Course data researcher

A new role of Institutional Course Data Researchers was created to download learner information through reports in the data downloads tab. This tab can only be access by this new role.

New columns in student report

The enrolled learner report that is generated from the LMS instructor dashboard comes with two additional columns: date_joined, and last_login.

Older reports no longer appear

Downloaded reports of more than 90 days are now removed from the list of report downloads.

Developer experience

As mentioned in the introduction, a very large component of this release is the update of the technology components that make up the Open edX platform and its dependencies. In particular, the new release is now built with Python 3 instead of Python 2, and the platform has abandoned Django 1.11 to now support Django 2.2.

Additionally, a major shift in the frontend architecture is starting to take shape towards micro-frontends MFE and a new component pattern library called Paragon is being implemented. These efforts have led some platform areas to be marked for deprecation in favor of their future MFE replacements.

For more information on the additional transformations on the underlying technologies, code repositories, and architectural improvements, check out the Developer release notes for Open edX Juniper.

MOBILE APPS

There are a number of improvements to the mobile applications that have been announced in sync with the Juniper release. This article will not cover the mobile application, but you can find more information about them in the Juniper release notes.

Do you want to know more?

Please visit the official Release Notes.

Are you ready to use the Juniper Open edX release?

Each upgrade requires a significant amount of development and configuration, especially for the more complex features. It may also be an opportunity to provide your Open edX installation with proper maintenance and hardening.

Our technical knowledge and experience with the Open edX platform allow us to assist you with the installation of the new version of the Open edX platform or in the migration of your running installation from a previous version to Juniper, you can email us at sales@eduNEXT.co.

If you want to enjoy the latest features in an open edX installation that is professionally managed and continuously updated, consider one of eduNEXT Open edX Cloud subscriptions.

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Ready to take your online learning to the next step?

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Get started with eduNEXT’s Cloud Subscriptions powered by the Open edX platform. You can always start small and adapt your platform in several ways as you grow.

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Get our team of experts to install and configure the Open edX platform in your own infrastructure, design and develop customizations, change the theming, deploy mobile apps, or train your staff.

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