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CodeRunner Documentation (V3.1.0)

1 Introduction

CodeRunner is a Moodle question type that allows teachers to run a program in order to grade a student's answer. By far the most common use of CodeRunner is in programming courses where students are asked to write program code to some specification and that code is then graded by running it in a series of tests. CodeRunner questions have also been used in other areas of computer science and engineering to grade questions in which many different correct answers are possible and a program must be used to assess correctness. However, the focus throughout most of this document will be on programming questions, where the students' code is being graded.

Regardless of the behaviour chosen for a quiz, CodeRunner questions always run in an adaptive mode, in which students can click a Check button to see if their code passes the tests defined in the question. If not, students can resubmit, typically for a small penalty. In the typical 'all-or-nothing' mode, all test cases must pass if the submission is to be awarded any marks. The mark for a set of questions in a quiz is then determined primarily by which questions the student is able to solve successfully and then secondarily by how many submissions the student makes on each question. However, it is also possible to configure CodeRunner questions so that the mark is determined by how many of the tests the code successfully passes.

CodeRunner and its predecessors pycode and ccode has been in use at the University of Canterbury for about six years, running over a million student quiz question submissions in Python, C , JavaScript, PHP, Octave and Matlab. Laboratory work, assignment work and mid-semester tests in the introductory first year Python programming course (COSC121), which has around 500 students in the first semester and 300 in the second, are all assessed using CodeRunner questions. The final exams for COSC121 have also been run using Moodle/CodeRunner since November 2014.

The second year C course (ENCE260) of around 200 students makes similar use of CodeRunner using C questions and a third year Civil Engineering course (ENCN305), taught in Matlab, uses CodeRunner for all labs and for the mid-semester programming exam. Other courses using Moodle/CodeRunner include:

  1. EMTH171 Mathematical Modelling and Computation
  2. SENG02 Software Engineering I
  3. COSC261 Formal Languages and Compilers
  4. COSC367 Computational Intelligence
  5. ENCE360 Operating Systems
  6. SENG365 Web Computing Architectures

CodeRunner currently supports Python2 (considered obsolescent), Python3, C, C++, Java, PHP, JavaScript (NodeJS), Octave and Matlab. The architecture allows easy extension to other languages.

CodeRunner can safely be used on an institutional Moodle server, provided that the sandbox software in which code is run ("Jobe") is installed on a separate machine with adequate security and firewalling. However, if CodeRunner-based quizzes are to be used for tests and final exams, a separate Moodle server is recommended, both for load reasons and so that various Moodle communication facilities, like chat and messaging, can be turned off without impacting other classes.

A single 4-core Moodle server can handle an average quiz question submission rate of about 60 quiz questions per minute while maintaining a response time of less than about 3 - 4 seconds, assuming the student code itself runs in a fraction of a second. We have run CodeRunner-based exams with nearly 300 students and experienced only light to moderate load factors on an 8-core Moodle server. The Jobe server, which runs student submissions (see below), is even more lightly loaded during such an exam.

The CodeRunner question type can be installed on any modern Moodle system (version 2.6 or later including version 3.0), on Linux, Windows and Mac. For security reasons submitted jobs are usually run on a separate machine called the "Jobe server" or "Jobe sandbox machine".