Erik Porter's Blog

Life and Development at Microsoft and Other Technology Discussions


    Blogging and CS Projects

    My significant other and I had dinner with a long time friend of mine (grew up across the street from him) and his significant other and had an interesting discussion about one of his latest CS (Computer Science) projects that he had to work on.  One thing that was interesting was how much he hated it.  They had to design a 3D pinball game using Java.  I told him that was the bad part right there...Java  ;)  But what was more interesting was that he bitched and complained about how one student in his group for the project had pretty much done nothing to help move the project along.  As much as that stinks, in reality, there's really not a whole lot you can do about it, except have the satisfaction of knowing you did a good job and will probably make it in the real world where as s/he will probably get fired from wherever they work at.

    One thing that just popped into my head about that is why not require each student to keep a daily blog of what they work on?  At least some sort of journal or something.  Then another student could challenge another student against more than just their word.  Plus, I think that could also give some insite to the professors about how the students are going about what they're doing and possibly help them further.  It could also just be one of those things that's there if it's needed and not necessarily looked at by the professor unless needed.

    In the business management application that we use/created there's a similar idea:  Time Entry.  Each day I go in and add how many hours I worked for what company and a short description of what I did.  This can help out both my boss to see what I've been doing (or lack thereof) and also in the possible circumstance of an unhappy customer who would like to know what all we did and when and make sure we're not buffering the hours, we can send them a nice report of what all was done and when by who.

    Maybe there's some aspect of project blogging for college projects that I'm forgetting that would make it not really a good idea (hacking ideas from other students maybe, etc), but from my inexperienced (went 3 semesters before leaving) college aspect, it seems like a neat idea to me.

    Posted: Nov 30 2003, 03:06 PM by HumanCompiler | with 6 comment(s)
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    Chris Stewart said:

    There is nothing wrong with Java. :p It's actually a good language for college students because it's open and easy to get going with.
    # November 30, 2003 6:33 PM

    Avonelle Lovhaug said:

    My son who is a college student has a different problem - one person on their team is a control freak, and so is doing the whole project herself. While my son has repeatedly offered to contribute, she rebuffs these offers by saying it is no problem, and that she prefers to do it. (Personally, I can appreciate her point of view. I'd much rather do it myself than trust it to others, especially people I don't know that well.)

    I think the real problem is the idea of group projects in school. My kids have been struggling with this for years. The bottom line with these groups is that in many cases, 1 or a few kids carry the load for everyone else. I've heard educators argue that group projects are more like "the real world", and that kids need to learn how to work with others. True enough, except in the real world if you weren't pulling your own weight you would be removed from the project (well, at least some of the time). But in school that will NEVER happen.
    # November 30, 2003 6:45 PM

    HumanCompiler said:

    Chris...whatever you say! ;)

    Very good point, Avonelle! I didn't even think of that angle. I think that's an angle that could also be helped by something like a blog for a project...
    # November 30, 2003 8:05 PM

    Scott Mitchell said:

    I don't think inserting a layer of paperwork will help remedy the problem. The offending students could just write in things like:

    -- Researched topic X
    -- Implemented Y, but such and such didn't work so I started over from scratch

    And so on and so forth. Now, what is really needed is to have some manager or something assign workloads. But the only person who could be the manager would be the professor himself, IMO. (Students would face peer pressure and such and make terrible managers, likely.) This, of course, removes the architectural decisions and planning that the instructor was wanting the students to have to take part in in the first place.

    The solution? Go to one of those kick ass schools full of work-a-holics and smarties, like MIT, Berkley, CMU, etc., etc.. I'd wager you chances of running into deadbeat partners there is less likely than at a typical state school.
    # November 30, 2003 11:35 PM

    HumanCompiler said:

    paperwork? paper is the devil ;) but no really, that's all i meant by it anyway, was a quick and short entry. and yes, i'm sure you're right if you go to a really big school known for CS stuff that it wouldn't be a problem, but compared to the number of schools that aren't that good, i'd say they're far outnumbered ;)
    # December 1, 2003 1:21 AM

    Darrell said:

    Avonelle - people will *never* get removed like you say. I used to say the same thing all throughout my undergraduate and graduate life. In the real world it usually doesn't happen. The only way people tend to get removed from projects is when they screw up really bad, the rest of the time as long as they just bumble along, they won't be removed.

    In getting my MBA, most of our projects were "team" projects and the grades were given to all regardless of who contributed how much. The reason for this is that it forces teams to self-organize to get the most out of their teammates. And it took a lot, since different cultures have different expectations. For example, when out team said "meet at 3pm" we were there at 3 or a little before. The 2 foreign exchange students showed up at 3:30, since in their native country that is an acceptable thing to do. Aaaaargh!

    Scott - at the MBA program at William and Mary where I went (a top 50 business-school) you still get slackers. Sometimes it is family problems, sometimes disinterest, sometimes incompetence in particular subject matters. The reasons are endless, the results are the same! It was very frustrating, to say the least.

    In my experience so far, the best way to deal with people that don't contribute as much is to get them into some sort of work that they can do or want to do, preferrably something routine and boring! :) It's much easier to change the work than to change the person. And if all attempts at that fail, then lock them out of SourceSafe (or other version control system) so at least they aren't a negative contributor.
    # December 1, 2003 2:17 AM

    Alfred Thompson said:

    I used to teach high school CS and that sounds like am interesting idea. Kids are going to be passive agressive about it though. The kids who would rather code are not going to bog. They're going to tell the instructor they don't have to because they are actually coding. The kids who don't code may or may not. If they are clever they will bog because it is easier to fake being a hard worked by writing lines of text then lines of code. Still it's something I'd like to see tried.
    # December 13, 2003 8:21 AM

    HumanCompiler said:

    Good points, Alfred. I'd definitely like to see it tried too.
    # December 13, 2003 2:28 PM