Monday, January 19, 2009

You Blog, I Blog

I came up with an evil scheme to inflict pain on my students this Semester. I made them each write a blog for CS3216.

Can anyone imagine hardcore coders write blogs (in English, not in Java, C# or Scheme)? :-)

Yes, so it is indeed evil for me to have inflicted this on my poor students. However, in the immortal words of Titanic (aka "You jump I jump"), as a teacher, I have decided that I will walk the talk.

Like them, I will write one post after every major lesson/lecture and on top of that, I will read every word that each of my students write in their class blogs. I think it's fair. They now have no excuse not to write. ;-P

In this first post, I think I will try to articulate as best as I can what we are trying to achieve in CS3216.

Like every other course, we have a full page of learning objectives, yada yada, for CS3216... but frankly, they don't matter. In my view, all the "official" objectives for the course can be distilled into two key high-level "meta-goals":

  • To "force" students to think.

  • To teach students "how to learn".

To force one to think sounds really nasty, but truthfully, it is actually possible to go through school without having to think much at all.

One of the reasons why I decided to experiment with this blog is to see if I can make the students think a little harder about what they hear and what they see.

The lectures for CS3216 may seem a bit random. They are not.

The purpose of this blog is also to summarize some of the key points made in the lectures.

Another reason for making the students blog is to encourage them to share ideas and interact. We actually tried something like that last year with what we call Reflections in the IVLE Discussion. I didn't think it worked quite so well and so I decided to try something different.

Frankly, I really don't know how to teach students "how to learn". However, what we try to do is design the two assignments and the final project in such a way as to allow the students to figure this out.

Instead of explicitly holding classes to teach Facebook Programming, we just spend a whole lot of effort crafting a monster assignment with 25 pages. Our experience last Semester has shown that, amazingly, this works! :-P

We're trying to pull this off twice this Semester -- once with Facebook and once with Microsoft WPF. It's really not trivial to come up with a good assignment and I'm really fortunate this Semester to have the Microsoft folks helping out and also a most brilliant teaching staff.

So to conclude, I hope that students will learn "how to learn" by just doing stuff. But it's not just random stuff. It's actually assignments that have been designed with much care, coupled with sufficient flexibility to allow the students to express their creativity.

Flexibility is important because it allows the students to do what they LIKE to do. Learning must be fun. :-)

The greatest challenge in teaching today is not so much in the teaching of the students (or communication of knowledge); the greatest challenge is convincing students that they WANT TO LEARN. How hard is that?

The saying goes, "you can lead a horse to water, you cannot make it drink."


  1. Way cool, prof !

    Though this blogging thingy is kind of a pain, I think it works better than last year's reflection.

  2. btw, you should have used wordpress, it's far superior to blogger

  3. So to conclude, I hope that students will learn "how to learn" by just doing stuff.

    I whole heartedly agree on this stance. After all, practicals are always better than theories if they are properly planned out.


  4. Toan,

    I think it works better than last year's reflection.

    I think so too! :-)

    you should have used wordpress, it's far superior to blogger

    Blogger seems to work. I dun do anything complicated. :-P

  5. haha cool, this will be the most popular blog among us :P

  6. I have always had the problem of looking for people who are willing to take risks and dare to work on projects, be it business or for certain causes. After I first saw the course description for the class, it hit me that the systematic answer would be to, through courses in the curriculum, help Singaporeans (not exclusively but as a general term) unlearn what we have been trained to do (which is to do the "safe" thing) and just dare to do stuff!

    Now its up to us to do a fantastic job so that all of us (especially Prof) can go and convince others that this is the way of the future in education! :-)

    (Btw, its amazing how many times I have heard the wordpress vs blogger conversation come up during this class.)

  7. Oh btw, the wordpress' feed, it shows how many comments you have for a particular entry. I think that's easier to keep track of comments, compare to blogspot. Other than that I have nothing against blogspot :P

  8. Jason,

    haha cool, this will be the most popular blog among us

    If I win the most popular blog award, then it's bad news for those who are trying to get an A by blogging. Remember: "There can only be ONE." :-P

  9. Ahhhh, now I know why you created this blog :P.