¾ million problems!

07Feb16

I wanted to post a short update on CS Circles, my project with the University of Waterloo CEMC to teach introductory programming online.

I’ve been checking the total number of problems solved on the site, and it has just surpassed 750000! I’m pretty sure I’ve never done 750000 of anything in my life except maybe eating grains of rice. More than 20000 users have solved the first few problems, while for the hardest problems, only slightly more than 500 students have solved them.

One of the most interesting things about CS Circles is how the “ask for help” feature has worked in practice. This feature is available on every programming problem, and allows students who are stuck to send in the current version of their code alongside a few sentences explaining where they are stuck. They can ask for help from their own teacher if they are registered on the site, otherwise they can ask the “CS Circles Assistant” which is me and my colleagues Sandy and Troy. The interesting thing is that more than half of the questions I get are already solved before I log in! I take the weekend shift so the questions I see have been sitting there about 24 hours. I remember using the Piazza system at university where we strived to answer every question within hours! I guess we should just be more lazy and most people will figure it out sooner or later, after they’ve taken the time to verbalize exactly what is the problem.

The other update is about the source code. CS Circles became open-source back in 2013, thanks to a SIGCSE special projects grant. Over the last couple of years, a team of educators in Serbia extended the project in two ways: first, they created a Serbian translation; second, they extended the underlying infrastructure to add new functionality. This includes look & feel improvements, an involved improvement to run multiple courses at once (in their case, multiple difficulty levels), and the ability to run time-limited and feedbackless quizzes. It was great just to know that the project was useful to them, and we also were able to publish a report on the changes and how the students liked it.

Are you interested in learning either Serbian or Python? Then you can check it out at http://imi.pmf.kg.ac.rs/imipython/

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