8. XBlocks and Contributions (Updated, June 2016)


One of the largest successes of Open edX technology is the XBlock architecture.

Designed by third-party developers and used to create new courseware components –such as a video player, an interactive Javascript feature or a discussion forum– XBlocks can be reused across courses and shared with the community (though this is not required, since they are under the Apache 2.0 license which allows for closed-source solutions).

An XBlock is an extensible system written in Python that processes user input, stores course content, displays it, etc.

A groundbreaking example is the Annotation XBlock. It essentially introduces a new paradigm in online learning by allowing for contextual commentaries and conceptual tagging of media fragments inside online courses. HarvardX recently introduced digital annotations to “Poetry in America: Whitman”, a course that “made the study of poetry a conversation instead of a solitary endeavor”.

Today there are over 60 XBlocks listed in the GitHub directory; 40 of them have non-edx origin.

In our opinion, these are the best XBlocks:

  • Badging XBlock and Open Badge Server.
    Instructors are able to award digital badges from an online course using Open edX. This XBlock depends on IBLOpen Badges-Server, a self-hosted platform to award your institution’s micro-credentials. [Disclosure: IBL developed this XBlock with the support of edX]
  • Poll & Survey XBlock.
    It enables a course author to create survey and poll elements to get feedback from students.
  • Drag and Drop XBlock v2
    Students are required to drag and drop text or images into different sections as specified by the assignment.
  • Image Explorer
    It allows for display tooltips of an image within the course content.
  • File Storage XBlock
    It allows to insert or embed files from One Drive and other providers. [Disclosure: IBL worked under a contract with Microsoft in this development].
  • Office Mix XBlock
    Course teams can integrate narration, website links, polls, screen recordings, etc. into presentations by using Office Mix extension to PowerPoint. These type of lectures are hosted on Office Mix. This XBlock allows for embedding them into an edX course. [Learn more]
  • Problem Builder XBlock
    It allows to create questions of varios types and simulate the workflow of real-life mentoring, within an edX course.
  • Oppia XBlock
    It allows to create short interactive lessons or tutorials, called explorations. Oppia simulates conversations with human tutors to encourage exploration and experiential learning –although these assessments cannot be graded on the Open edX platform. [Learn more]


Other XBlocks * are:

Each page provides relevant details, including how to test the block.

Before installing them see the latest list of maintained XBlocks, since some of them might not work with the latest Open edX code. [ XBlock tutorial ].

This tutorial provides a lot of new information, including:

  • A quick-start section that helps you create a new XBlock in just a few minutes.
  • An overview of XBlock concepts.
  • A tour through all the parts of a sample XBlock.
  • Guidance on modifying your own XBlock.

In addition to this tutorial, edX released the XBlock API Guide an updated the XBlock review guidelines.

On December 2015, it was added guidance for installing and using XBlocks.


Remarkable Community Contributions

Top organizations have contributed with valuable software.

  • Stanford University: Adaptive hinting, eCommerce, OLI integration
  • Google: Single-Sign-On, Instant Hangouts
  • Berkeley: Forums 2.0
  • MIT: Equations, many types of problems, SPOC/CCX, SGA XBlock
  • Harvard: Annotation, edX – Canvas – BlackBoard integration
  • Tsinghua: International support
  • Edraak: Right-to-left
  • University of Queensland: LTI
  • McKinsey Academy: Polling XBlock

Feature Roadmap

Consult this page.