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A solution to Blackboard misery for college students and professors

Project description

Blackboard Unsucked

crummy name for a fix of crummy software

If you are a student or faculty at ODU I'm sure you're no stranger to wasting 2-3 hours a day trying to find or post assignments via BlackBoard.

I am concerned with the student's view, but I hope this experiment can prove useful for professors as well. The goal is to wrap around existing BlackBoard infrastructure and provide a CLI API to access all the important functions which usually are trapped behind 4-5 links and a total 20-30 second browser load time.

Specific Goals

  • [x] Login to BB
  • [x] List classes for the current semester only (hide irrelevant ones)
  • [x] List all announcements
  • [x] List assignments for a given class
  • This will have to be sort of intelligent as professors put assignments in different places
  • [ ] Submit files for assignments
  • [ ] View/Post to discussion boards
  • [ ] Caching and Daemon operation, to prevent having to hit the network for most data access

Dependencies

Python3 requests, and BeautifulSoup, both of which can be installed via pip3

Usage

The fastest setup is to save a .har file of a recent Blackboard session someplace, then run

# Install the package
pip3 install --user bb_unsucked
# Read authentication details from .har
python3 -m bb_unsucked build-cache downloads/my-session.har
# use the __main__.py program to list all of your classes
python3 -m bb_unsucked ls

in a script

the file demo_usage_in_script.py has more examples, but the hello world is:

import bb_unsucked

bb = bb_unsucked.BBUnsucked()

for my_class in bb.classes():
  print(f"I am in {my_class.course_id}")

authentication

To perform the authentication step the most reliable method is to save a .har file of a recent blackboard session. bb_unsucked is capable of parsing authentication session cookies out of the file recent_request.har.

how to save a .har from a browser

Config

bb-unsucked reads from config directives first from /etc/bb-unsucked/config.ini and then from $HOME/.bb-unsucked/config.ini. Neither file need to be present, but should you want to override a parameter the default config contents would be

[DEFAULT]
base_domain = https://www.blackboard.odu.edu
cookies_file = /j/.bb-unsucked/cookies.bin
agressive_caching = False
courses_cache_file = /j/.bb-unsucked/courses-cache.bin
courses_max_cache_s = 604800
announcements_cache_file = /j/.bb-unsucked/announcements-cache.bin
announcements_max_cache_s = 21600

As you can see, the base_domain defaults to ODU's blackboard instance, but this can be changed to point to any blackboard instance.

My config lists various cache files as being under /j/ (my home dir) because when using defaults bb-unsucked will dynamically generate the values of cookies_file, courses_cache_file, and announcements_cache_file.

Compiling cython binary

Some speed demons will want to optimize performance as much as possible, esp. if bb-unsucked is going to be used in other scripts. This repo contains a makefile which will build the binary bb-unsucked when you execute make bb-unsucked.

The binary outperforms the python module most effectively when reading cached data which requires no network access. It does this by inserting some code, cython_main_interpose.c, in the generated .c file that Cython outputs.

This code is responsible for trying to perform simple tasks without the need to jump into a python runtime. good examples are printing help text and listing classes, which the module takes 200ms doing and the binary takes 2ms to do.

Project details


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