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# Account
Everything is keyed off of root accounts. Accounts can be configured in
a number of ways, but most configurations are only available on the
root account (things like authentication, SIS, js/css embeds). Courses,
sub-accounts, logins, etc. will be scoped to the root account.
# Users
Users are global, and can span across root accounts (although in most cases they
won't). Visitors don't log in as users, though, they log in as pseudonyms.
Pseudonyms are tied to a specific root account. Visitors log in
using a Pseudonym and password, which is then used to retrieve the actual
user data. Pseudonyms can either store a hash of the user's password,
or if configured on the root account they can authenticate through another
service like LDAP or SAML.
# Communication Preferences
Users can receive notifications for different types of events (if an assignment
is graded, if a new announcement is made, etc.). They can specify where and how
often they would like those messages sent. A user has multiple
CommunicationChannels, each of which are a route for messaging. They can register
email, sms, or facebook communication channels and then have certain types of
notifications send out immediately, daily, weekly or never to those channels.
Each notification type is a Notification record, and a user specifies
NotificationPolicy records that state where and how often to send each
type of notification. Some notification types also show up on the user's
dashboard activity stream (see StreamItems).
To send a notification to a user we trigger custom events using the
vendor/plugins/broadcast_policy plugin. In an ActiveRecord model you call
set_broadcast_policy to do this. BroadcastPolicy retrieves a list of recipients
and creates a DelayedNotification record to be handled in the background. The
DelayedNotification is then used to build a list of Message records, one per
user per specified channel.
# StreamItems
When we want to send a message to one or more users' dashboards, we create
a StreamItem, which is a cached version of the needed data to render the
item. This way we can populate the dashboard of a user with only one
database lookup. For every affected user we create a StreamItemInstance
that ties the StreamItem to the user. To see how items show up in streams
check out lib/send_to_stream.rb.
# Inbox
The inbox is not really an inbox (better name anyone?). It's a place where
you can see messages that are probably directed to you. So if someone sends
a direct message to you through the inbox tool, or if someone replies to
a topic you started, or if someone replies to your reply in a topic, or if
someone comments on one of your homework submissions, or if you're a teacher
and a student comments on their submission in a course you're teaching, then
the message will show up in your inbox. To see how items show up in the
inbox check out lib/send_to_inbox.rb
# Assignments
Assignments probably isn't the best term for it, because it's more than
just assignments. This is anything that a teacher wants to show up in their
gradebook, so that's assignments, attendance, tests, papers, etc. Every assignment
can have a points possible, allow for submitting online, and can be associated
with a forum, quiz, etc.
Assignments are organized into groups. Every AssignmentGroup can have a weight
assigned (so a teacher could say "Papers are worth 50% of the final grade,
Tests worth 30%, Homework worth 20%"), and have custom grading rules (i.e.
"Drop the lowest 2 scores"). A teacher can also just do straight points-based
grading if they want.
The gradebook shows all assignments and students in a grid, and by default
calculates final grades based only on assignments that have actually been graded.
This gives a better feel for a student's progress throughout the semester,
instead of just once all the grades have been entered. Students also have access
to just their own grades with the same calculations. Students can enter
"what-if" grades and see how future grades will affect their final grade.
# Files
Every course, group, and individual user gets a place to hold files. They
can organize them into folders, lock and unlock files for student access,
import batches of files as a single zip, etc. The default is a simple
javascript uploader, but if flash is enabled then a multi-file uploader
is overlaid and used instead. If you have edit priveleges, you can drag a
folder to another context and copy its contents without having to re-upload
all the files. Files (Attachment is the name of the model) are namespaced
by the root account, and if a user uploads a file that matches some other file
in the same root account we don't store two copies, we just keep a pointer.
This makes it harder for us if we want to delete old files, but keeps storage
down.
# Wiki
Every course and group gets a wiki. They can set edit priveleges to only
teachers, or students as well. There's no wiki words, instead there's a
WYSIWYG editor and a sidebar with all the links you could possibly want. In
fact, every editable page inside of Instructure gets the same sidebar, so it's
easy to link from an assignment page to a forum, a file, a wiki page, etc.
Wiki pages are accessed by name, and created on demand (/courses/5/wiki/new_page
would be created if it didn't exist and you went to it).
# Quizzes
Teachers can build online quizzes for students to take. They can be graded
or ungraded. There are a few quiz question types, including multiple choice,
true-false, fill-in-the-blank, missing word, short answer, numerical answer,
and short essay. A teacher builds a set of questions, assigns each question
points, and students can then take the quiz. Questions answers are keyed randomly
to prevent cheating, and all grading is done server-side.
Quizzes can also include question groups. This is easiest to explain with an
example. A teacher could create a group with fifty questions, and then say
every student should be given a random selection of five of those fifty questions,
worth five points each.
Quiz questions are also stored as AssessmentQuestion records. This is so they
can be organized into question banks and reused on future quizzes. QuestionBanks
can be bookmarked by a teacher, which means they'll be able to add questions
from that bank to any course they manage.
# Calendar
The calendar view shows assignment due dates and calendar events overlaid on
a monthly calendar. A user can see all their courses, groups, and personal
events overlaid on the same calendar a la Google Calendar. Those with edit
priveleges can drag and drop, rename events, etc. A user can subscribe to their
calendars using an external tool via the ical feed link on their calendar
page.
Currently there are no repeating events in the calendar, and no way to import
an ical feed into the Instructure calendar.
# Forums
Every course and group has a discussion forum. Topics include replies,
and every reply can have a set of sub-replies, but that's as deep as it
goes, no sub-sub-replies. Sub-replies are called 'Side Comments'.
Announcements also show up in the forum view for discussion. Teachers can
lock topics so they can't be posted to. They can also rearrange the order
of topics if they like.
# Modules
Courses can have modules, which are just collections of different types
of content. A module could have some files, some wiki pages, some
assignments, etc. Teachers can specify criteria for completing modules,
and then specify prerequisites for modules. This lets a teacher block
access to some content in the course until the user has, say, gotten a
minimum score or viewed a page.
# Access Control
Account managers can set fine-grained permissions on a per-role basis. Right
now the roles they can specify permissions for are Teacher, Student, Ta, Observer
and Designer.
Access controls are inherited up the chain. If a teacher doesn't define
permissions, they are inherited from the department, then the college, then
the school. Anywhere along the chain an admin can "lock" a permission, which
says, "I don't want anyone down the chain to override my decision for
this policy".
Account managers can also create different types of account users. They can
define as many custom account roles as they like (i.e. sys admins,
tech support, etc.) and define what permissions those role types have.
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