Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sense in the Madness

Two weeks ago, we had the Facebook Application Seminar; last week was "Pitching Week". There is a common theme in these two past two weeks and that's ideas are important.

CS3216 is no about programming Facebook applications. That's really quite easy. CS3216 is about coming up with a good idea for a Facebook app and EXECUTING it. So there are two parts - idea + execution. Both of which are equally important. We first focus on the idea and for the second half of the semester, we will deal with the execution part in the form of the Final Project.

The goal of the Application Seminar is to have the students study some existing applications in detail so as to learn about how they work and also practise analyzing the application and thinking about what's good, what's bad and what's ugly. We also experimented with blogging as a means to "encourage" (aka force) students to pay attention during the presentations and also to think a little deeper about what they heard.

It really isn't that hard but it is something that I would like to encourage students to do critically to their own apps as they work on their Final Project. It is quite easy to get so caught up in doing the work that we sometimes forget to just sit down to just think about what we're doing.

I always tell my students, "More Thinking, Less Coding".

While the students might be a little upset to have the Application Seminar Critique foisted them, they might be comforted to know that I suffered with them because I had to read through not just their critiques but the comments they left on each other's entries. Overall, I think it was a good move - but I would only doing once during the semester. :-)

Pitching Week is all about ideas. First, the students heard from the folks who are interested in working with them. There was NDP, NLB, APB and lots of others.

There are many things that the students should have learnt from the session if they were paying attention.

First, the session provides students with a perspective of what the industry cares about in terms of Facebook apps and why they care about what they care about. Some of those who turned up have a better idea about what they want; others only have a foggy idea, but that's how it is.

Second, the students get to see how industry folks pitch their ideas. Personally, I think marketing is important. Technical skills are useless unless the sales matches up. There is no point building stuff that nobody will buy or use.

Third, this is the chance to strike up partnerships. The folks who came to the pitching session has some things to offer and I do hope that by linking them up with the students, meaningful partnerships can be formed.

The quest for ideas culminated in a Pitching Party last Friday. The idea of the Party was suggested by a student in last year's batch. We tried it out last year and it worked, so we did it again this year.

In my opinion, it was as successful as last year. While I had planned for the session to start at 6 pm and end at 9 pm, we ended at 10 pm instead. The point of the Party was to allow students to pitch ideas to each other.

At this point, they are supposed to be thinking about their Final Projects and so they can use the Party to try to get other students to join their groups, or if they had already formed their groups to try to elicit feedback from the group on their Final Project ideas.

We also had some ex-students at the Party to do some pitching and also to give their views and comments on the ideas pitched. I thought it was a good session and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Some students commented that they were quite overwhelmed last year. They thought they were all set on developing their Facebook app from Assignment 1 for their Final Project, but they were not quite so certain after all they heard in the two sessions we had last week.

That's actually good news. It is my hope that students will spend more time thinking about their ideas and what to do for their Final Project instead of rushing into things.

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