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Imanol Eizaguirre
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Online Python Tutor: Web-Based Program Visualization for CS Education

As part of his CS education work at Google, +Philip Guo has been developing an open-source educational tool called Online Python Tutor (http://www.pythontutor.com). This tool enables teachers and students to write Python programs directly in the web browser and then single-step forwards and backwards to visualize what the computer is doing as it executes those programs.

Program visualization for CS education is nothing new -- researchers have been developing these sorts of tools for decades. However, most of these tools never reach far beyond the confines of the researchers’ home universities due to the difficulty of installing and configuring the visualization software. What makes Online Python Tutor unique and effective is that it’s the first known tool to adapt time-tested ideas from the research literature (e.g., rendering of box-and-pointer diagrams) for a web-based environment. Now anyone with a modern browser can create, explore, and share their program visualizations by simply visiting a web URL.

This ease of access has been a major contributor to adoption: So far, over 100,000 people have used Online Python Tutor to understand and debug their programs, often as a supplement to learning from textbooks, lecture notes, and online programming tutorials. In addition, instructors in over a dozen universities such as MIT, UC Berkeley, and the University of Washington have used it for teaching introductory computer science courses.

But this is just the beginning. Philip and his colleagues are now building an online authoring environment so that, within the next few months, teachers and students will be able to save their code snippets and add annotations, discussion threads, lessons, and interactive exercises on top of the associated visualizations.

They are also actively seeking partnerships with educators at all grade levels to deploy and improve Online Python Tutor. Please contact Philip directly or re-share this post with educators who might be interested in working with this tool in any capacity.

Visit www.pythontutor.com to learn more and to start visualizing your Python programs now!
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