Sunday, August 10, 2014


    I started teaching some programming courses online two semesters ago. One thing I worried about as a beginning instructor was that all of the students would do their assignments and everyone would get A's. I know some universities like to keep an average of a B- (or some other target) for the whole course. I worried about how I would be able to do that. It turns out, I didn't have to worry at all.
    Students do the strangest things. I had 20-30 students in my courses and it seems I'd always get a few that would sign up for the course and then not do any work. I'm not talking about doing a couple assignments here and there, they would do nothing at all. I can't understand this. They're paying to take these courses, they would reply to my emails and say they want to stay in the course and turn assignment in, but then they wouldn't do anything. Well, it made figuring out their grades pretty simple.
    We also have online quizzes and exams. The instructions say that they should be done closed book and closed notes. Obviously, there's no way I can enforce that in an online class. However, I've been surprised with what students have tried to get away with. In one quiz, the question asked what a certain block of code would do. One student looked up the definitions of one of the functions in that block and then put that down as his answer. Okay, his answer was partially correct and I would give partial credit for that. However, he copied the function definition directly from the book, word for word. Really?
    I'm often surprised about the questions that get asked in the forums as well. Every week, we have a discussion forum where we can talk about ideas from the readings. Every week, I also post notes in a special "Notes from Instructor" section where I write a little bit about the chapter and overall themes I noticed from the week before. I'm surprised at how many questions come up in the forums that have already been answered in the notes I've posted. About half the questions posted in the forums have been addressed in the notes. I just don't understand it. If I were a student, I would be paying attention to the notes, especially because the instructor would be determining my grade in the end.
    My favorite one came last semester. Let me give some background first. The grading for this course is a little bit different than many courses. The whole course is objective-based and the final grade is determined on your percentage of points towards each objective rather than total, overall points. You pass an objective if you get 80% or more of the points in that objective. So theoretically, you could get an A in the course and only get 80% of the possible points. The converse is also possible, where you get a high overall percentage, but fall below 80% in a few objectives and end up with a C. All of this is described from the beginning of the course, is in the syllabus, and an Excel sheet is provided to help students calculate their grades.
    The interesting thing to me was that I tried to warn students about this. It's all printed in the syllabus and I'd remind students about the objective-based approach and ask them to check their grades using the Excel sheet. The whole semester goes by and I don't hear any comments or complaints about it until the last week. Then a lot of students get upset and complain and are generally unhappy.
     I'm just confused since students had known the process all along. There's even a required assignment in the first week where the have to acknowledge the grading process. But then they get upset in the final week. I had a wonderful email from a student that I would love to post here, but I've gone longer than I normally do already. He described the grading process as needing "calculus and a crystal ball". Really all you need to do is plug in some number to an Excel sheet.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Why all the H8

I've previously featured Windows 7 as a software bliss example. More recently, Windows 8 and 8.1 have come out and it's been interesting to see how they've been received. There have been many good reviews, but there's been a lot more negative things said about it.

Personally, I don't understand all the negativity. A lot of it is focused on the new Modern UI and how it doesn't fit so well on desktops. I can see that, but if you don't like the modern apps, then just don't use them. The regular Windows desktop is still there and works pretty much how it always has.

There's a lot of things I really like about the new Windows. One of them is the new start screen. I think it's done really well and it helps me find a lot of information quickly. I've set up a few tiles to auto-update - stocks, weather, email, pictures, etc - so every time I see the start screen I know what's new in all of these. I think of it a lot like the Mac OS Dashboard, except I actually look at and use this one. I've tried to set up and use the Dashboard many times, but I always seem to forget it exists after a day or two. I've noticed the same from many Mac users I know.

Another thing that's great for me is having Hyper-V built in to the non-server editions. I don't have to install Virtualbox anymore, and it actually works better for me. Hyper-V will automatically pause my VMs when I reboot the machine and start them up again after reboot. I never got that working with Virtualbox and it was always a pain.

Anyway, there's some good about the new Windows and there are drawbacks as well. It's just fascinating to me because it seems customers want change but they want everything to stay the same as well.