Websheets

03Jul15

Next week I am headed to the ITiCSE conference (Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education), in Vilnius, Lithuania, to present Websheets, an exercise system for programming problems in C++ and Java.

Websheets combines a couple of ideas.

  • It is an online system where students get immediate feedback on their programming solutions. This has become very common in recent years, though not many support C++, and not many are open-source (the biggest exception being the awesome CloudCoder system).
  • An exercise isn’t just a big blank page, rather it’s a template with specific gaps to be filled in. The motivation for this is a system of hard-copy handouts used at Princeton… the idea being that, if you are just teaching one topic that day, and you have limited class time, it would be better to give the boilerplate and off-topic bits of the program to the students ready-made, so they can make better use of their limited in-class time.

Try it out! Go here and read all about it:

http://cscircles.cemc.uwaterloo.ca/websheets.html

If you create any cool exercises to share, or find ways to break it horribly, I’d love to know.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve done a few fun things to it:

  • I combined the Java version from Princeton and the C++ version from USC.
  • Taking inspiration from CloudCoder, you can now create and edit exercises online.
  • Teachers can now keep track of their students, like we did last term at USC. (We hosted some very low-value homeworks on the system; basic stuff to complement the readings and help students stay focused.)

Moving past the technological part, I’d like to eventually do a study to measure the effects of different types of scaffolded exercises in the classroom. Is it better to provide more scaffolding or less? Though one may be faster, do you learn more from doing more work? Or is the code reading of the scaffolding itself an important skill?



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