Dr. Luis de la Fuente Valentín is Assistant Professor at the Universidad Internacional de La Rioja (UNIR). The International University of La Rioja (UNIR) is the largest Spanish-speaking private online university, with students from all over the globe and offices in Mexico (UNIR Mexico), Colombia (UNIR Colombia), Ecuador, Peru and the United States.
At the UNIR School of Engineering, Luis is in charge of continuous improvement of teaching and learning and the design of a new free MOOC course in Python Programming, for which he uses CodeGrade. This Python course was offered completely free of charge and available for about 1000 students who were enrolled in Computer Science courses at UNIR, like Big Data or Artificial Intelligence. It lasts 8 weeks and has biweekly assignments. As it is a completely free and extracurricular course, it is given teacherless; the lectures are pre-recorded and the assignments are fully automatically graded using CodeGrade.
CodeGrade instead of a teacher in a MOOC
Next to their regular curriculum of paid courses, students at UNIR could enroll in the additional Python Programming course for free. Luis explains that this was both for experimental reasons and because of financial constraints: “All of our regular courses have a teacher.” Luis mentions that having a teacher is important to him: “In an online environment, this supports the students. But it obviously increases costs and makes us dependent on the online availability of the teacher. For our free massive online course [an extracurricular add-on to regular courses], we could not assign a teacher and wanted to try out how that would work out for our students.”
It was a logical choice to adopt CodeGrade for this course to ‘replace the teacher’, he mentions: “We believe that teaching a programming course without graded assignments is useless, so we needed a way to grade the students’ work. Simple home-made automatic tests could not fill this gap, as we care for a good integration of the automatic tests, and we did not have a teacher, so we decided to adopt CodeGrade.” For a fully online university, a smooth user experience and good integrations are essential: “CodeGrade provides fully autograded assignments with good feedback to our students that satisfies our high requirements for user experience and fits the flow of the course. Because of CodeGrade, we can provide this course with graded assignments.”
Adopting CodeGrade for the Python MOOC
After selecting CodeGrade as their autograder, Luis mentions the two steps he had to take to start using it in the Python MOOC: “First, we needed a perfect technological integration. With about 1000 students enrolled, we needed both the back-end and the user interface to be working smoothly.” As UNIR is a fully virtual university, they have custom and specific tools CodeGrade had to integrate with. “We have a very homogenous and specific infrastructure, and we needed CodeGrade to integrate perfectly with the way we do things at UNIR. The CodeGrade team helped us very well and developed a custom integration with our learning management system Sakai especially for us.”