Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Answer is Yes

It's been a really busy week for everyone.

While the students were busy blogging about the Facebook Application Seminar, I have been busy working with Kok Wee and the Tutors on the grading of the FB assignment and also in preparing the Google Wave assignment.

I haven't had the chance to read through all the FB Application critiques quite as thoroughly as I would have liked, but I will re-read all of them over the next two weeks while I'm away in Bangkok.

Teaching CS3216 really keeps me on my toes because every batch is different.

Traditionally (i.e. for the last two batches), the 70% milestone points are like giveaways because every group will fastidiously ensure that they were satisfied. This year it's quite a mess and I decided to something never done before: get students to re-submit.

The nice thing about CS3216 is that it's a class I created and so I pretty much make the rules. More importantly, I get to change the rules along the way to adapt to surprises. I've never been a fan of dogma but it's not like I do stuff at whim and fancy either.

Why resubmission?

Reason is very simple: I have no intention of assessing students based on the three assignments: (i) FB assignment; (ii) FB app seminar and (iii) Google Wave assignment. These assignments are structured in so a way that students will LEARN stuff. As long as people learn, the objective is satisfied. The grades awarded are supposed to "punish" the idle ones who don't put in effort.

Most groups have put in A LOT of effort into the assignment and convinced me that they learnt something and so I felt that it would not be fair to punish them just because they were not kiasi and kiasu enough to get every single milestone point. Scoring for the milestone points is not function of intellect, it's merely a demonstration of diligence.

My hope is that everyone will finish the first three assignments reasonably well and all get reasonably high scores. The students will be assessed for CS3216 mainly on the Final Project.

I must say that I am very pleased with the FB application seminar this year. After three iterations, we've finally gotten it right (I have to admit that we really do it quite right the last two times). The presentations were nice and succinct and the critiques and ensuing discussions were good. Apparently students have been forced to think.

I tell my students that it's really fun being a prof -- because we get to do what we believe in. And it is in this spirit that CS3216 is conducted.

Henry asked if his group can do a Chrome plugin instead of the Google Wave assignment, the answer is yes.

Yecheng asked if he can swap the order of the Final Project and Google Wave assignment, i.e. do Final Project first. The answer is yes again (provided his GW and Final Project groups are the same).

Why not? :-)

Not that I'm a fan of Yes Man (starring Jim Carrey), but I think there's a cultural problem in our society where people ask too much for permission, rather than forgiveness. My policy for CS3216 is that pretty much anything reasonable and that complies with the high-level goals of CS3216 is possible - ask and ye shall receive.

If I should reject a request, it would be my responsibility to EXPLAIN why not. :-P

To conclude, learning is hard. And it is my belief that we are our own best teachers. So the whole structure of CS3216 is not so much in me trying to teach students stuff, but in me trying to encourage students to learn stuff on their own. When I see a post like this, it encourages me that I might just have done something right.

CS3216 doesn't seek so much to teach as to light a fire -- to convince students that they can do more than they thought they could do (before they took the class).

Yes, it's painful lah, but as they say "no pain, no gain". The reason why CS3216 works is that there's shared suffering. When you're suffering alone trying to decipher some obscure piece of code, you start asking yourself if you're an idiot. When you're sitting in COM1 with a dozen other students, it becomes an experience. Such are the mysteries of life. :-)

I would like to wish all students a very Happy Lunar New Year. While I will not be physically around to give angbaos, those who have not already gotten my comments on your FB app critiques can look forward to CNY "good luck" comments that you will be expected to respond to.

P.S. I was "supposed" to write about the FB app seminar this week, but I decide I would read through all the critiques once more in more detail first. Akan datang.


  1. Prof, thanks for walking the talk.

    Happy CNY!


  2. Enjoy your vacation next week, Prof! =)

  3. do we get souvenirs from Bangkok?

  4. I will re-read all of them over the next two weeks while I'm away in Bangkok.

    Randy Pausch says vacation time is vacation time, no work. What do you say to that? :P

    The presentations were nice and succinct and the critiques and ensuing discussions were good. Apparently students have been forced to think.

    I felt the real reason I was forced to think was not because I had to post, but because I had to post something insightful or different after so many critical reviews had already been written. That's tough!

  5. Sir, we need more professors like you!