Elke Boonen is lecturer for Programming Fundamentals, and other programming courses, at the ICT degree at the Thomas More University of Applied Sciences. Thomas More started using CodeGrade in 2019 to streamline their programming courses and to start doing graded weekly assignments.
“The education itself in the previous years was much the same as this year with CodeGrade. I also gave students assignments that they handed in. The difference was, I couldn’t manually grade all these assignments.”
Before CodeGrade, students handed in their assignments in Blackboard. Where teachers could view the assignments and download them. “To upload their assignments, the students either zipped them up in one big file or pasted the code in Word files *sigh* so at least we could view them on Blackboard.” The assignments themselves weren’t mandatory: “I’d only look at the assignments if the students performed poorly on the final exam. I just couldn’t grade all these assignments for each and every student on my own, and then also give feedback on them as well.”
This was a big frustration for Elke, but also for the students. “I couldn’t give them the real feedback they needed and couldn’t be proactive, like I can now. Another issue was checking for plagiarism, I used Moss [a code plagiarism tool from Stanford] at the time. But it required a lot of manual work to use that tool, and I had to do it all in bulk, it was all just tricky and error-prone.”
Adopting and using CodeGrade
To streamline their workflow, Elke and her team decided to adopt CodeGrade. “I said: Let’s do this and we’re starting immediately with weekly assignments and deadlines.” Besides some minor hiccups in the beginning, that come with adopting any new tool, Elke and her students quickly figured it out. “Everyone, students and teachers, knew very well what they were supposed to do. So, then, we decided to also use CodeGrade for the exams and that was very positive for the students as well. Students know the workflow with CodeGrade and that comforts them on the exam as well. It gave structure. Students even asked us to create even more CodeGrade assignments, so they could prepare even better for the exam!"
“I was a big fan from the beginning. And you actually see that CodeGrade, in combination with the lectures, yields great results.”
“If I created assignments and exams before CodeGrade, the structure was less defined. There was a lot of room for interpretation, even if I tried to exactly tell students what to do and how to do it. I had to constantly modify my unit tests to the interpretation of the implementations. But now, because students can check, before the deadline, if their implementation follows the assignment, they do a much better job.”
“Keeping students practicing throughout the course, was one of the biggest challenges we had. Our students are not used to working for school at home, they attend the lectures and when they’re off, they think: ‘I’ll go work, make some money’. That’s also why I clearly see the added value of CodeGrade. It helps to keep the students engaged, because they’re constantly working on the assignments."
“I’ve done a lot of analysis on the student data, with very interesting results. We used CodeGrade for the final exams, so I looked specifically if there was a correlation between the grade for the final exam and the amount of CodeGrade assignments the students handed in and the average grade for these assignments. And, what I already expected turned out to be true: students that scored well on the assignments also passed the exam. That was beautiful to see.”
“From my experience in computing education, I can see that we should let students work as much as possible, and give them feedback as soon as possible. If that’s also backed up by the grades from the final exam, then that’s just very nice. Effectively showing that the results are good with this workflow means that it really is the right approach and we are not just giving students a more heavy workload for no reason. Students that worked hard, had a good result on the final exam.”
“There are more people that passed this year than previous years, and I think that the students that passed also have a bigger chance in passing the other programming courses. Even students that I think would not have passed last year, did pass this year.I was a big fan from the beginning, and you see that CodeGrade, in combination with the lectures, yields great results.”
In the future?
Elke is enthusiastic about the future of Thomas More with CodeGrade: “Using CodeGrade more and more, creating even more assignments, and using it for more courses. I’m a huge fan.”