Specific thoughts on the @Coursera experience

First, I’d like to say a massive thank you. I really value the chance to study this excellent material at zero financial cost, and more importantly I love the opportunity you provide to people all around the world who don’t have the finances or the circumstances to otherwise consider such an education.

I also know what it’s like to maintain and develop a complex online system while supporting active users, so this feedback is by no means an accusation of negligence. You will have thought about much of this already I’m sure, and if it’s already on a project roadmap somewhere then please excuse me.

In short, this is not a letter from a grumpy customer; I just thought it may be useful to hear some specific feedback and ideas that could help with the online experience:

When viewing and submitting assignments

  • Include some visual indicator as to which ones you’ve already submitted. A tick would be plenty.
  • Likewise for showing which assignments you have completed your peer-reviews for. If you forget, you have to click into each item to check what you have and haven’t done. Even then it’s confusing to remember.
  • The general visual hierarchy on this page is confusing. Those blue buttons jump out way more than the text you really want people to read (i.e. the assignment titles)
  • Indicate the assignments where the existing submission deadlines are closed (I’m only in week 2 so maybe this happens after week 1 evaluation is done, but currently its an effort to digest what my next steps are and how much I have to do before Sunday night)

Class Homepage

  • Bubbling up some top level stats on assignments due/completed to the homepage would be useful

Syllabus page

  • Ability to mark-off each item you have watched/completed would be nice. Like the assignments, if you’re doing this in the evenings after working, and you’re already tired, every little helps. I found myself relying on visited link colour, and that’s not a very cross-platform solution 🙂
In summary, the simpler you can explain what’s expected of people (and by when), the more enjoyable the learning experience will become. Let them focus on the learning, rather than the admin (unless of course you’re secretly trying to teach personal admin skills).

That’s it for now, as I have homework to do!

I hope that’s useful in some way, and thanks again.

 

On my next pet project and @Coursera

My most recent ‘pet project’, Done by When, grew up today.

It’s 3 months to the day since I announced a vague plan to test out an idea that had been floating around my head, and now it’s out of beta, taking payments and I’ve just notice our Mandrill email reputation has crept up to ‘Excellent’. Woohoo.

I’m delighted with where it’s going and all the helpful (positive and negative) feedback I’ve had from the first brave group of testers.

I’ve added some screenshots to my portfolio on Behance, but the interface has progressed even further since then.

Now that Done by When has a “business model” and all that, it will be given a serious amount of time and attention going forwards. But importantly, as it has an active user base I won’t be using it as a playground for new ideas and technology. It will first and foremost serve the needs of the users. Which means it’s no longer a ‘pet project’.

I needed another project/playground so I’ve enrolled (and completed my first week) in Design: Creation of Artifacts in Society with Coursera. I’ve studied design before, so mainly wanted to see what the Coursera experience was like in relation to the Open University courses I took a few years back. I’m more interested in the content of the Game Theory course, but that doesn’t start for a while yet, and all learning is good learning.

So I’ll be writing some posts about the Coursera experience, but more importantly I’ll use this as a framework for my next pet project. There are 7 weeks left to go and I’ve set myself the brief to somehow contribute to dealing with the issue of food waste.

Food is core. If we solve food, we solve most things.

Not that I’ll solve food, but I may contribute something.

I’ll keep you posted.

On learning Python, and a style guide

As I continue to learn and work with Python as a programming language, I’m liking it more and more. I feel my code tightening up, and I’m beginning to see why the Python community are so loyal to the vague but useful idea of Pythonic code.

I wish I’d seen this Python style guide a little earlier on in my learning though:
http://www.python.org/dev/peps/pep-0008/

While I’m not far off with most of this, it makes me want to go back and tidy up a bit now, which never feels like the most effective use of time (though it may be in the long run).

And I particularly liked the phrase “A Foolish Consistency is the Hobgoblin of Little Minds” 🙂

jQuery UI Sortable slow in FireFox

This is just a note for other developers searching on the same issue, as I didn’t find anything online when I was looking for ideas.

jQuery UI Sortable is a great way to work with drag and drop web interfaces but I found it was running painfully slow in Firefox. It was snappy in Chrome, and surprisingly responsive in IE, but Firefox was lagging.

As the official Sortable demo ran fine in Firefox it was easy enough to work out that it was something in my own code causing the problem. After cutting out items and returning them one by one it seems that having too much CSS3-niceness within the draggable elements was the culprit.

Each item I was dragging included a set of mini buttons styled with the lovely Bootstrap effects (gradients, rounded corners, shadows etc.) and although Chrome wasn’t phased by this it seems to knockout Firefox.

Valuing responsiveness more than prettiness, my solution was to cut back on the styling of these items and I’m happy with the results.

Hopefully this is useful to you too.

I’ve set myself a challenge

I’ve had an idea for a piece of software I think would be really useful. And rather than spend months thinking about and scoping it, I’ve set myself a deadline (deadlines are magic).

The first version will ship by the end of this month.

If I’ve not announced this new project on this blog by 31 Aug 2012, feel free to send me abuse.

I’m also going to use this as a chance to learn some new skills. I think I may learn Python.

A quote from End of an Era

This is just a quote I wanted to make note of:

“We have used our unprecedented freedoms, secured at such cost by our forebears, not to agitate for justice, for redistribution, for the defence of our common interests, but to pursue the dopamine hits triggered by the purchase of products we do not need. The world’s most inventive minds are deployed not to improve the lot of humankind but to devise ever more effective means of stimulation, to counteract the diminishing satisfactions of consumption. The mutual dependencies of consumer capitalism ensure that we all unwittingly conspire in the trashing of what may be the only living planet. The failure at Rio de Janeiro belongs to us all.”

– George Mobiot, End of an Era