Monday, February 1, 2010

Subversion for Homework part II and the start of the new term

Starting the new semester tomorrow and I've got a whole bunch of interesting topics to blog about. Some about pedagogy, some technical, and some that I can't really catagorize.

For now, though, just a brief follow up on using Subversion for homework collection.

The basic model used in New York City for teacher improvement and evaluation is the official "observation." Either your supervisor or the principal sits in on one of your classes. Afterwards you meet and discuss the lesson and a report is written up. Basically, there are two possible outcomes: satisfactory or unsatisfactory.

Untenured teachers are generally observed three times a semester. Tenured teachers, once a year.

In all cases, this system is severely flawed. The supervisor sees a 40 minute snapshot out of context and is supposed to evaluate the teacher and make recommendations for teacher improvement. It's generally of limited value at best.

Because of this, years ago, I started to ask my students to evaluate me. For quite some time now, I've used a custom written web app that allows students to complete long questionnaires over a period of weeks. The system allows me to know who submitted an evaluation while maintaining anonymity.

I've found these evaluations to be incredibly valuable and I've used them to try to improve my classes and my teaching over the years.

Having just wrapped the semester, I've gone through my students responses and the vast majority liked using subversion for homework. As I figured, some felt that it was a little confusing at first and there was a learning curve but most felt it was either as good as any other method and many said it was superior.

This combined with the fact that it makes me more efficient confirms that it's a win.

It was also interesting that I had hardly any suggestions for alternative ways of collecting homework.

Recently, I've been using Git for my personal development work and I'm planning on experimenting with it in one of my classes, so we'll see how that goes.

Now, on to the new semester!!!!!


  1. I was thinking of using an anonymous questionnaire to get feedback from students. Do you have the questions yours contains handy?

  2. I should be able to dig up a set and send them to you tomorrow. I usually ask mostly free response questions about each of the major topics, techniques I use (such as how I do homework and projects), as well as general questions about my teaching style and course content.

  3. Z,

    Git would definitely be better for homework and projects. It always bothered me that everyone else's commits would change my revision numbers, and whenever the SVN server was down it'd be really hard to do any work.

    I know Tala submits homework by Git at Brown, though I've been using a e-chalkboard software here. Its submission process amounts to uploading one file at a time through a web interface. I still use private Git repos and Github for big stuff though.

    How would you do access control for Git anyways?


  4. Xo,

    Yeah, SVN has it's issues. I'm almost ready to move to git for all my classes, but there are still a few issues I have to work out.

    As far as access control -- you can serve git over http via apache2. This lets you use apache for authentication and access.

    It's much easier now than it was a couple of years ago.

    Using auth_external you can pretty much put together any form of authentication you'd like.