X-blocks are modular-components of edX courseware that can be used to extend a course’s basic capabilities with advanced and interactive learning experiences.
These xBlock components or plugins add different functionality to the course content and structure so the audience gets more than the traditional text with Q&A experience.
For example, in a chemistry tutorial the structure of a chemical bond can be displayed by adding a 3D viewer X-block which makes it a more rich and engaging experience for the user.
One of the biggest benefits of xBlocks is that they can be easily shared or included in a particular course structure. If someone needs to convey a concept with the help of a 3d animation, they can simply include that xBlock in their course, and use it to create 3D learning experiences.
xBlock’s code is packaged in a modular way that it can easily be deployed by any open edX instance looking to add the same functionality.
While there are many xBlocks out there, we found that only a handful get the most usage and adoption.We looked at recent source code commit activity and adoption of these xBlocks, and found 5 xBlocks to be the most actively supported and widely used. While adoption(utility) was crucial and abstract evaluating factor, our criteria in terms of the last commit was as follows:
Very Active: Github commits within the past 4 months
Active: Github commits within the past year but not in the past 4 months
Moderate: No Github commits in the past year
Note: Github commits indicate code changes made by developers on the master codebase
The 5 most useful X-blocks
Adventure xBlock (Very Active)- This is a “Choose your own adventure” kind of simulation where the user faces a branching of sequential steps as a result of the selected options. Components like HTML,video are a plus but the “keep the user busy at their level of engagement and selection” model gives it a large following.
Problem Builder xBlock (Very Active)- This has the largest scope of utility because most course creators want to test the students to gauge not only how well they are doing but also to evaluate how well they have performed with the contents and structure of the course. It provides variety of questions types e.g. Multiple Response Questions and many others making it the most needed X-block usable across any topic of courseware.
Drag and Drop V2 xBlock (Very Active)- The name suggests the concept behind it but the some of the added functionalities like feedback pop-ups for both correct and incorrect answers and initial feedback are quite compelling bringing intuitive user experiences to courseware.
Google drive and Calendar xBlock (Active)- Google is at the forefront of leveraging the cloud for applications, with the most common work applications (word processor, spreadsheets, presentations, file storage etc) now shareable online through Google drive. This xBlock delivers these capabilities directly on the EDX platform. Besides documents, this xBlock also helps integrate Google Calendar allowing users to keep track of important course dates and deadlines.
Animation X-block (Active)- It provides a more engaging experience by combinations of text and images and usually the user has click through the animation by the use of the slider and also that they can regulate the pace of learning it.
Flash xBlock (Moderate)- Online experiences and ads are increasingly being replaced by mobile equivalents and there is rapid growth of mobiles video and applications, and HTML5 is replacing flash on web and mobile. Thus the user base for flash perceptively may deplete in the near future. Mobile education is also an important aspect of open edX, hence the need to look beyond flash. The usage of this X-block is in question and it probably needs a life-boat with an HTML5 sticker on it.
Acid xBlock (Moderate)- This xBlock tests the implementation of the runtime of the xBlocks which means you need to deploy this xBlock explicitly to test on the other xBlocks deployed. Making it an embedded functionality would make it much more usable.
Audio xBlock (Active)- Audio components in courseware have limited use when other simulation and interactive engagements are possible in the environment. In the consumer world we see more interesting uses of audio e.g. the Dubsmash app which allows for interactive audio experiences. Similar integrated audio experience should in theory improve learning outcomes, but in its current form the Audio xBlock does not offer this. There is a potential opportunity for this xBlock or any others to fill this void in the edX world.
SSH xBlock (Very Active)- It can enable the Virtual-lab concept for online education. It basically allows the student to securely login to a remote machine from a web terminal via the SSH protocol.
Open Response Assessment xBlock (Very Active)- With the masses getting online to benefit from the MOOC model,grading can become hard to manage for instructors. Self and peer assessments are ways to manage this, and the Open Response Assessment xBlock enables this.
Rating xBlock (Very Active)- This X-block will give an overall Youtube look to the video components present in the courseware. Except the share feature in Youtube rating and commenting is supported.
Problem Builder xBlock (Very Active)- As discussed earlier, this xBlock helps the instructor providing him bunch of options through he can assess the students in the course eg True or False, MCQ’s, MRQ’s and so on. We can expect several enhancements over the next few months to this xBlock as educators come up with new techniques to teach and assess students via mobile and online delivery of courseware.
Want to learn more about xBlocks? Some useful resources:-
List and description of xBlocks: https://github.com/edx/edx-platform/wiki/List-of-XBlocks
xBlock Tutorial: https://open.edx.org/videos/open-edx-xblock-tutorial-and-demos
xBlock API Guide: http://xblock.readthedocs.org/en/latest/