How one learns from his students in his very own class..

The third semester of teaching CS3108 (Mozilla) is coming to an end. For those of you new to the course, it is one that I guide students at my school, National University of Singapore, where I am currently finishing my third year of undergraduate studies. (Kudos to Professor Lee Wee Sun for supporting me over the many months, as well as others I haven’t mentioned)

Over the past semesters, I have welcomed student feedback on how I can make the course better and more exciting, at the same time remaining its flexibility in allowing students to fulfill their dreams at working on a large open source project.

Some of the feedback have been interesting. The first two batches came back with the opinions that each lesson have an overview of what the lesson should be about (I’m getting better at this, doesn’t seem to be a problem this semester), while there have consistently been queries asking about the CAP (GPA in other countries) required to take the course (which there isn’t).

As for the latter, my professors have been noting the trend that half the students in the first lesson of the course seem to disappear after hearing about the expectations. I am of the opinion that only the independent survive, because I am a student myself, I do not possess the opinion that the students be spoonfed material. I merely guide them along, in return for some wonderful projects that have happened over the past courses. To be honest, by the second half of the course, the students are usually much more well-versed than I am in their own area of interest.

Of course, I could always do better. This semester, there has been thought about how to obtain a student-project more easily, and this in fact has recently been mitigated with the introduction of the `student-project` keyword a while back. Interestingly, the students are also suggesting to give homework, not in the form of overly tough laboratory work, but rather short little quests. Such quests could involve writing a simple mozmill test to open a new tab, or even to use the DOM Inspector and find out the id of the Go button in Firefox, for example.

I thoroughly enjoy my classes at school. It is a great opportunity for the students to learn about the open source world, as well as a place where I can also learn from the students themselves, especially since some of their technical coding skills may be better than my very own. It brings forth the message of humility, where no one is above anyone else. I always encourage them to refer to the classes as “sharing sessions”, and to call me by name rather than “Professor”, “Lecturer”, or “Sir”, especially since I am none of the former.

I will continue to teach the course for another two semesters, till I graduate. Hopefully by then someone will take over, but till then I will continue to teach the class even though it does occasionally get tiring on top of my own university work. I thank my professors (Professor Dave Humphrey included), past and present students and members of the Mozilla community who patiently help out the students as they swim their way out of the deep end. The course has helped both the community (they get fixes) and the students (they get the experience – one past student did enough to get his name in official credits, another made use of the experience to set up his company, and a third finally may have found enough confidence to apply for a Google Summer of Code project).

CS3108 (Mozilla) will count as one of the biggest achievements that I am proud of, during my university days. I sincerely hope both the students and myself will benefit from this experience as we begin to look for jobs after graduation and step out into the real world.

2 thoughts on “How one learns from his students in his very own class..

  1. Hi. I wonder if you considered using Chromebug as a way for students to learn about the XUL/JS layer in Firefox/Thunderbird etc? A debugger gives an internal view of the application that can provide a lot of insight unavailable if you only look at the source and try to imagine the runtime result.

  2. @John: Yes, I have considered using Chromebug, however its level of technicality is very high for a basic Mozilla course. I will definitely consider demonstrating it towards the end of a course though.

    To students new to Mozilla, even using DOM Inspector to inspect ids is a challenge, hopefully Chromebug can make the inspection bit easier. Mozmill actually had a slightly simpler inspector fwiw.

    Cheers,
    -Gary

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