Tin Khan

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After five months of working at Saltbox in early 2012, funds ran out. I seriously considered taking a gamble with a work-for-equity offer, but I didn’t see at the time how I could make ends meet while doing so. I left.

I liked the team I worked with in those few months, as you could probably tell from my past blog posts. Ali and I kept in touch via IM occasionally - and that’s how the Tin Khan project came about.

By October, Saltbox completed the pivot to working on Wax, their learning record store. The old “SaLTBOX” app shut down. Wax LRS was now the primary product of Saltbox.

A week before Halloween, Ali and I had already talked about the Tin Can API (now the Experience API) and it piqued my interest. I floated the idea of doing a little demo project, since I had some spare time. The idea was: pulling student data from Khan Academy’s API and putting it into an LRS.

He said:

A vague demo that can connect to Wax would be enough to blow their minds. Better yet, if you could get it done by Wednesday… we can get it to DevLearn for you in Vegas! :)

This was Wednesday, the week before DevLearn. So I slapped together a Django (a web framework for Python) app that let you add a list of students and an LRS endpoint, then used Celery (a distributed task queue) to send an email to each student asking them to click a link. That link takes them back into Tin Khan, pushes them through the OAuth process for the Khan Academy API, and then pulls their activities (videos watched, badges earned, and exercises done) into a local database. New activities were discovered and synchronized to the configured LRS via Tin Can statements sent via HTTP.

One week. The final result was something that worked as a demo, but would need some actual architecture for real world use. Pretty much what people mean when they talk about an “MVP” - a minimum viable product.

Unfortunately, the Khan Academy API doesn’t provide a way to request just the information about a user’s newest activities (i.e. what’s changed since the last time we looked). That means that Tin Khan had to fetch all of the activities every time and store them locally, so that it could compare with what had already been sent to the LRS previously and send the difference. That works for a demo, but not for real use.

It now (four years later) looks like the Khan Academy API supports constraining the date range when fetching a user’s watched videos. If I were to build Tin Khan today, that’s where I would start.

Four years ago, other projects took precedence, and this project was shelved. A few days ago, as I was going through a list of all the projects I’ve worked on in the past few years, I thought of this project. I still had the source sitting in an archive on Dropbox, so I decided I’d put it up on GitHub for future reference (or laughs ;).

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