New open-source web apps available for students and faculty

May 24, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The learning applications team within Penn State Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT) has made some new Linux web applications available for Penn State students and faculty.

Jupyter is an open source web environment for writing code and visualizing data. Over the past few years, it has become increasingly popular across a wide range of academic disciplines. 

Jupyter allows for interactive coding in a variety of programming languages, such as Python and R, to perform live data manipulation and analysis, and combines it with rich inline markdown text. Documents created in Jupyter are saved in a special notebook format which can be easily shared or exported and published in a variety of formats, such as webpage, PDF and Microsoft Word. 

JupyterHub is a variation of the Jupyter project, which adds support for user account management and enterprise authentication. The TLT instance allows students and faculty to log in with their credentials for full access to their own Jupyter environment and provides direct access to their Penn State Access Account Storage Space (PASS). Using PASS for storage provided a large persistent storage space that students and faculty were already familiar with and was easily accessible from the local lab systems or their personal devices.

This semester, Jupyter was used extensively for an undergraduate astronomy course, Astro 297, using the Python programming language, taught by Ana Matković, assistant teaching professor of astronomy in the Eberly College of Science. This course required many nonstandard libraries and additional configurations that would be difficult to install and maintain across the entire lab. The combination of Jupyter and Python reduced these barriers and made it easier for students to start coding immediately. With JupyterHub, the students had access to a remote environment where they could continue their coursework outside of the computer lab.

Another new web app is RStudio Server. This semester, a few faculty members used the RStudio Server and some expressed interest in incorporating it into their courses or using it alongside the desktop version.

RStudio Server is a web version of the popular RStudio desktop application, which is a development environment for an open source statistical programming language called R. Many features of the R language are implemented and shared using what are called R packages. These packages are maintained separately from the core language and are frequently updated, which makes RStudio difficult to support in our current lab environment. 

By comparison, RStudio Server provides a more consistent R environment, where any package can be installed and maintained, and which can be accessed from any web browser. Also, by using PASS space as storage, the data created in RStudio Server can easily be accessed from lab systems, personal devices or published in a variety of formats (web page, simple interactive web apps, PDF, Microsoft Word).

For more information or for assistance with these new apps, contact the Learning Applications Team at

Last Updated June 06, 2018