Monday, March 5, 2012

Week 3: no disasters yet

Our free online SaaS course is now entering its third week, with no major disasters to report!

Our autograder technology is working, thanks to heroic efforts by our on-campus graduate student instructors (i.e. TA’s), especially Richard Xia’s strong Ruby chops, and to Amazon Web Services’ generous donation of EC2 credits to run the autograder processes.  No doubt we will further improve, streamline and fortify the autograders for future course offerings, but without Richard’s efforts we couldn’t have had them running in time.  The autograders give detailed feedback on which tests passed and failed in the homework submission, and we allow students to resubmit homework to improve their scores based on the autograder’s feedback right up until the deadline.

The students are about to submit HW#1, completion of which entitles each of them to a $10 Amazon AWS credit and 90-day GitHub Micro account (thanks to Jinesh Varia at AWS and Kami Lott at GitHub for these very generous donations!).  In fact, based on the activity in the autograder processes (another big thanks to AWS for donating EC2 credits that we can use to run autograders for 39,000 students), thousands of students have already submitted it.

We’ve been humbled by the number of countries represented, including many where , or in some cases cannot easily complete a financial transaction to the US.  We’ve made separate arrangements with many of these students so they can continue the course, but obviously we’ll have to find a sustainable and scalable solution to the distribution problem for next time.  We’ve even had a couple of generous offers from students willing to subsidize the book purchase for others who are in financial hardship.  We’ve fielded emails about this issue from the Gaza Strip, Tunisia, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Nigeria, Georgia, Indonesia, Macedonia, Malaysia, Serbia, and Singapore, in no particular order.

Last but certainly not least, we’ve seen a handful of VERY positive and gracious emails and forum posts from people who are clearly appreciative of our efforts and feel they are getting a lot out of the course, despite its imperfections and the inevitable glitches that happen on a first offering.  To those who reached out to us in that way—you know who you are—thank you for both your gratitude and your understanding that this is a brand-new experience for us and that problems will happen despite our best efforts.  I’m spending most of my waking hours focused on this course, and hearing from people like you renews my energy to improve it further.  Originally I was excited about being able to reach 35,000 students, but the truth is that the real reward is hearing from the few hundred for whom the opportunity has had such a positive impact.

Our free online SaaS course is now entering its third week, with no major disasters to report!Our autograder technology is working, thanks to heroic efforts by our on-campus graduate student instructors (i.e. TA’s), especially Richard Xia’s strong Ruby chops, and to Amazon Web Services’ generous donation of EC2 credits to run the autograder processes.  No doubt we will further improve, streamline and fortify the autograders for future course offerings, but without Richard’s efforts we couldn’t have had them running in time.  The autograders give detailed feedback on which tests passed and failed in the homework submission, and we allow students to resubmit homework to improve their scores based on the autograder’s feedback right up until the deadline.We’ve been humbled by the number of countries represented, including many where , or in some cases cannot easily complete a financial transaction to the US.  We’ve made separate arrangements with many of these students so they can continue the course, but obviously we’ll have to find a sustainable and scalable solution to the distribution problem for next time.  We’ve even had a couple of generous offers from students willing to subsidize the book purchase for others who are in financial hardship.  We’ve fielded emails about this issue from the Gaza Strip, Tunisia, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Nigeria, Georgia, Indonesia, Macedonia, Malaysia, Serbia, and Singapore, in no particular order.Last but certainly not least, we’ve seen a handful of VERY positive and gracious emails and forum posts from people who are clearly appreciative of our efforts and feel they are getting a lot out of the course, despite its imperfections and the inevitable glitches that happen on a first offering.  To those who reached out to us in that way—you know who you are—thank you for both your gratitude and your understanding that this is a brand-new experience for us and that problems will happen despite our best efforts.  I’m spending most of my waking hours focused on this course, and hearing from people like you renews my energy to improve it further.  Originally I was excited about being able to reach 35,000 students, but the truth is that the real reward is hearing from the few hundred for whom the opportunity has had such a positive impact.

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