zyLabs is a zyBooks add-on that allows teachers to create coding labs that supplement the zyBooks curriculum. Being an add-on, there is increased functionality in assignments with features such as zyBooks’ beta interactive terminal and access to a repository of sample labs zyBooks has created for intro computer science classes. However, being that zyBooks’ main focuses are on digital textbook content, its zyLabs product is limited in its delivery of a truly functional and seamless student experience of completing computer science labs. Let’s discuss some key zyLabs’ features… 

1. Limited IDE in supporting “real-programming” 

zyBooks is mainly focused on its interactive textbook content, and they deliver content really well. It’s apparent with how concise and easy-to-understand their material is. However, the way they’ve structured their IDE technology with zyLabs is lacking in some basic features to support “running real code” as they are still working on a beta interactive terminal

In the meantime, while it supports multi-file exercises, the students cannot create a file directly in their zyLab or download files onto their computer from a zyLab. Instead, students have to copy/paste it into another text-based editor to then save. This is confusing as their instruction on how students can choose to compile/run their code on other IDEs suggest they understand the need right now for another full-functioning IDE to be used in conjunction with zyLabs. Therefore, students not being to easily save their code onto their laptops seems counterintuitive and tedious. Furthermore, most zyLabs are structured where the student has to enter their input values in a separate text-box to test their code instead of working in an interactive terminal. 

Conversely, Coding Rooms provides a full-functioning IDE that allows you to compile and run your code. We really understand the importance for students to code in a real coding environment so it does not confuse the workflow of programming when students advance from intro courses to more advanced curriculums. 

2. Ability for online collaboration and group projects 

zyLabs is built for an individualized student experience. During this pandemic, we realize it’s a lot harder for programming teachers to conduct lab sessions with their students. There is even more need for an online collaborative environment for computer science/programming lab sessions. Typically, lab sessions are run like workshopping classes where a TA and teacher can provide help to students who are stuck on their code. We cannot achieve this with distanced-learning and we hear the difficulties that teachers from our community have been voicing out. 

Photo by CoWomen on Unsplash

zyLabs currently does not support pair-programming or any sort of collaborative workspace that allows teachers or students to work together on code and it remains primarily as a homework delivery solution — something for students to do alone. Contrastingly, Coding Rooms’ main interface is to support collaborative coding and group projects. We believe that communicating code verbally is inefficient, especially because of how detail-oriented it is — which is why we see value in providing conferencing and “Google-doc-like” commenting and cursor tracking on code. Instead of speaking over Zoom or video conferencing and trying to describe exactly where to change your code, students can effectively see exactly which area of code the teacher is referring to during a lab session or class. Furthermore, commenting and our code playback features support offline collaboration and for teachers to provide direct feedback on labs. 

3. Made for introductory courses 

To use the zyLabs add-on, you have to already be a zyBooks user. This means you have to already buy into their content and curriculum in order to use their lab-creation platform. However, once you have it you can use your own content to build labs on zyLabs. They also offer “zyBooks Maintained Labs” or ZMLs and they contain several types of structured labs like warm-up exercises, short projects, and long projects. You cannot directly edit the content of a ZML to fit your coursework but can clone it.

Conversely, with Coding Rooms, we want to make sure that we are, at the forefront, a learning tool — we prioritize usability and functionalities for the teacher to house and run their labs. Content is something we are exploring for the long-term but we want to make sure our users have the choice to use our platform as a tool rather than having to buy into it with content that instructors for more advanced courses may not necessarily need or want. 

All in all, we love zyBooks for its content and how they’ve made computer science education accessible and easy to digest. However, its additional zyLabs feature has limitations that make Coding Rooms a comparable alternative. 

Check out the full feature comparison here: https://codingrooms.com/alternatives/zylabs-vs-coding-rooms/


Learn more at https://CodingRooms.com/

Coding Rooms is the world’s first virtual classroom for teaching programming that finally answers the question of “How do we do labs?” (and more!) in this remote and socially-distanced learning environment. Our unified instructor dashboard enables you to see all your students’ code, answer their questions, and take control of their IDEs — all in real-time. In addition, our administrative features, code playback, and feature-rich IDE enables you to run your entire programming class on a single platform. From an instructor’s perspective, it also provides insightful metrics into your student’s progression in the classroom and how engaged they are in your material.

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