Tutorial - Creating a Proficiency Exercise with JSAV

This tutorial will walk you through the code needed to create a simple proficiency exercise. The user of the exercise is supposed to click array positions in order from left to right to highlight each cell. A point is scored for each correctly selected cell. The options panel lets the user choose from various standard settings for controlling the exercise, including whether feedback for incorrect steps should be given, and whether such incorrect steps should be corrected or not. For the final code version, see the file [JSAV]/examples/simple-exercise.html.

The API docs provide complete documentation for the various library APIs.

Setting Up

First, like any HTML file we need a header to define the document type, title, and the CSS files to be used.

<!DOCTYPE html>
<title>ShellSort Proficiency Exercise</title>
<link href="AeBookAV.css" rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" />
<link rel="stylesheet" href="../css/JSAV.css" type="text/css" />

In this case, we included the standard JSAV.css file, as well as the CSS file used by OpenDSA textbook components (AeBookAV.css).

Next come the style elements.

#jsavcontainer {
width: 500px;
height: 150px;
background-color: #efe;
p.jsavoutput.jsavline {
height: 40px;

Here we first define the style for jsavcontainer, which holds the visualization. We define the dimensions and give it a pale green background color. jsavoutput is where messages can be written by the visualization. In this example it will hold the directions for what to do. We will define the output field to be of type jsavline, which is one of the style options provided by the API. We define its height to be 40 pixels.

Next, we will define the various DOM elements on the HTML page.

<div id="jsavcontainer">
<a class="jsavsettings" href="#">Settings</a>
<p align="center" class="jsavexercisecontrols"></p>
<p class="jsavscore"></p>
<p class="jsavoutput jsavline"></p>

jsavcontainer holds the AV itself. We have given it two standard elements that typically appear in a JSAV exercise: the options (or “settings”) panel, and the exercise standard controls. The settings panel is accessed by clicking on the settings button, which in this example is in the upper right corner and looks like a pair of gears. The standard exercise controls include the ability to regenerate a new instance of the exercise (“reset”), a slideshow showing the “model answer”, and information about the grade received on the exercise. We create a placeholder for what will display the current score. Finally, we position the message output, which is merely a special type of paragraph.

Next we load in the various libraries.

<script src="https://ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/libs/jqueryui/1.8.16/jquery-ui.min.js"></script>
<script src="../lib/jquery.transit.js"></script>
<script src="../build/JSAV.js"></script>

We use the standard jquery libraries, and we also load the JSAV library.

Next we make variable definitions specific to the exercise.

var arraySize = 8,
initialArray = [],
av = new JSAV($("#jsavcontainer"));

arraySize defines the array to be of size 8. initialArray will hold the array values. This placeholder is needed since JSAV will have to maintain two versions of the array object: The one that the user works on, and the copy displayed when the model answer is presented. jsavArray will hold a reference to the JSAV array the student is working on.</b> av is the JSAV visualization object itself. We pass in jsavcontainer to bind the container of the visualization to the DOM element with this id.

Next we deal with giving instructions to the user.

av.recorded(); // we are not recording an AV with an algorithm

By default, when a JSAV visualization is initialized it is expecting a series of effects to be recorded by running an algorithm. In this mode, the effects are only recorded and not visualized/animated. When making an exercise, we want to animate user operations as soon as they are performed. Thus, we call av.recorded() to end the “recording” mode. Note that animation state changes are still stored in JSAV’s internal animation state sequence array.

Write an Initialization Function

We are now ready to specify the pieces to the exercise itself.

The first step in creating an exercise is to write a function that initializes the exercise. This method will be called both on startup, and by the “reset” button. The initialize() function should clear the previous visualization (if there was one) and initialize a new one. It should also return the structures that will be used in grading to compare with the model answer. The name of the function does not have to be “initialize”, as its name will be bound when we create the exercise object, as shown later in the tutorial.

function initialize() {
if (jsavArray) {
av.umsg("Directions: Click on all array elements from left to right to highlight them. Then click on the first and last elements to swap them.");
initialArray = JSAV.utils.rand.numKeys(10, 100, arraySize);

jsavArray = av.ds.array(initialArray, {indexed: true});
swapIndex = av.variable(-1);
// bind a function to handle all click events on the array
return jsavArray;

Our example here is a simplified version of the one used by the Shellsort Proficiency Exercise. The code start by checking if we have an old instance of jsavArray, and clears the HTML elements if we do (calls to clear()). Next, the code generates random numbers with a call to JSAV.utils.rand.numKeys. The call to av.ds.array initializes a new JSAV array from the given array and the given options. The call to av.variable initializes a new variable that can be used to store value changes in the animation sequence. See section “Adding Student Interaction” below for explanation why we need this. The call to av.umsg() provides the text of the message that give directions to the user. Finally, the function returns the JSAV array.

Write the Model Answer Function

To be able to grade the student’s solution, the exercise will need to have a model solution. This will be used both to show the correct solution (as an AV shown to the student through the “Model Answer” button) and to compare to the student’s answer to judge correctness. Below is a simple model answer function where the correct solution is to highlight the array indices from left (index 0) to right (index arraySize-1) and then swap first and last element.

function modelSolution(modeljsav) {
var modelArray = modeljsav.ds.array(initialArray);
for (var i = 0; i < arraySize; i++) {
// swap the first and last element
modelArray.swap(0, arraySize - 1);
return modelArray;

The function takes a single parameter (modeljsav above) that is a reference to the JSAV animation of the model answer. Like the initialization function, the model solution function should return the structures used in comparing the model solution with student’s solution.

The function above first creates a JSAV array using the data stored in variable initialArray in the initialization function. Next, it marks the current state as the initially displayed state. Without this line, the first step in the model answer would be empty and the first step would show the array. It then goes through all indices in turn and highlights the current index. The gradeableStep() function is used to mark states in the model solution that should be used in grading. Thus, the model solution can contain an AV with explanations and other structures, but only the returned structures at steps where gradeableStep is called, are graded. Such explanatory steps can be added through call to modeljsav.step().

Creating the exercise

The exercise is initialized with a call to av.exercise(). The function can also take several options, some of which are required. Given our initialize and modelSolution functions, we initialize an exercise as follows.

var exercise = av.exercise(modelSolution, initialize,
{feedback: "continuous", compare: {class: "jsavhighlight"}});

The parameters that we pass:

The full set of options can be found in the API documentation.

At this point, the exercise can be graded and model solution shown. It now remains to write the code that allows the student to construct her solution.

Adding Student Interaction

It is simple to attach listeners for user actions (like mouse clicks) to JSAV data structures. We already had the code register a click event handler to the array in the initialize function:

// bind a function to handle all click events on the array

Now let’s see how to write the arrayClickHandler function. Inside the handler, we need to first decide if we are in “swap mode” or not. This is done based on whether the last index is highlighted or not.

function arrayClickHandler(index) {
// if last index is highlighted, we are in "swap mode"
if (this.isHighlight(arraySize - 1)) {
// when in swap mode, first click on index will store that index
// and change the font size on the value
if (swapIndex.value() == -1) {
// apply the CSS property change to index
this.css(index, {"font-size": "130%"});
av.step(); // add a step to the animation
} else {
// the second click (swapIndex has some value) will cause
// the swap of indices index and stored swapIndex
this.swap(index, swapIndex.value());
// change the font-size back to normal
this.css([swapIndex.value(), index], {"font-size": "100%"});
exercise.gradeableStep(); // this step will be graded
} else { // we are in highlight mode
// highlight the index
if (index == (arraySize - 1)) {
av.umsg("Good, now swap the first and last index");
// mark this as a gradeable step; also handles continuous feedback

If we are in swap mode, we need to check if this is the first or second index for the swap. On the first click, we need to store that index to be used when second click occurs. Normally we could store the value in plain JavaScript variable. However, a student can undo a step, which should also reset the swapIndex value. For this, we have defined swapIndex as a JSAV variable. It has functions value() that will return the current value and value(newVal) that will set the value.

Now, the exercise should be interactive and ready for use!