Well, this is the 6th day of teaching and the first day of the second week. (I’m not counting weekends.) Some of the students went to Shenzen over the weekend and discovered “an electronics mall the size of Adelaide” which was the big motivator for going. Sadly, I wasn’t able to join them at the World Cup this morning as my flight got in late and I still had marking and work to do, but here’s a picture that one of the students, Sarah, took of the crowd – and they were a very vocal crowd for 3 in the morning!
Today we finished off talking about the way that programmers work with the network when they write applications. When someone sends information too fast for a receiver, we need to control the flow of the information, but when there’s just too much information on the network (from possibly many sources) we have to deal with the congestion. Both of these (and the solutions we use) are really important reasons why the Internet works today! We had a lot of discussion, group-based work and I spent a lot of whiteboard time motivating how we could get information out of the network without having to do anything beyond what we already wanted to do, just to use it.
We had started later so students could get some downtime and it certainly paid off because participation was as good as it had been on other days and brains were only slightly slower than usual. It’s the great thing about having the freedom we have here, teaching only one course and leaving time for work and thinking time. I certainly prefer it as a teaching approach!
Feedback on the quiz and short exam are also positive although there is work to do on making the questions slightly less ambiguous because the terminology of networking often coincides with other uses and there isn’t the same amount of time to get students used to a new reference frame.
After a steamy few days, it seems cooler today and we’re seeing a large amount of blue sky. Here’s what the campus looks like from outside the building I’m teaching in!
Well, we had a normal session to start with, which consisted of discussion about the Transport layer (that bit of the network that makes it easier for the people who program your web browser to talk a web server) and some of it was good but some of it – ehhh, I think it got away from me. There are some really complicated diagrams and I’m still thinking about the best way to teach them. I suspect it’s something you go away and do, then discuss, then do again so that’s a note to self.
We broke for lunch and I (coincidentally) ended up at the same place as my students so I joined them. (There is no escaping the Nick.) They’re all doing the right thing and eating everywhere to see what’s good and basically getting into the whole experience. (They may all be addicted to duck’s web now. Sorry, that’s my fault.)
After lunch, it was short quiz and short exam time – the students have weekly quizzes, marked automatically and worth 5% each, and then a short answer exam, which I mark manually and these are worth 10% each. Because of the compressed timescale, I’m trying to scaffold the revision process by requiring the knowledge earlier. From what I’ve seen so far, it appears to be working, although I’m not sure how appreciative the students are. Once I’ve marked everything, I’ll discuss it with them to see what their impressions are. I’m a great believer in working with students to try and build better courses and this is one of the best opportunities I’ll ever have.
I have to head back to Australia for the weekend but I’ll be back Sunday afternoon. Until then I’ve asked my students to work hard, play hard and be safe. I’ve delayed the class on Monday morning from 9am to 1pm, not because I’ll be jet lagged, but because CUHK is putting on a giant screen showing of the world cup with local commentators, starting from 3am. This is exactly the kind of serendipitous cultural moment that we want to capture in these sorts of exchanges so, not only am I shifting the class, I’m planning to go along myself.
Sorry to my German readers but I have to support Argentina or my friend Guadalupe will kill me. Vamos Argentina! Have a great weekend and I’ll fill you in on Monday in a few days.
We were back in the classroom today and the overall plan was to talk about some teaching materials that I’d put on-line already on programming network-based applications. (A lot of work has gone into making it easier for people to write programs that talk across the network and it’s really useful to write these programs for practice because it exposes students to all of the problems that occur when an application spans more than one machine.)
Rather than just walk the students through some slides, I made it pre-reading and then asked them to produce a very small example that sent communication from one machine to another. We had some really interesting results – everyone had been working on it and had something to show, although a couple of people had discovered that trying to add features just before a demo can make a the demo a little less ‘demonstrative’ than it might otherwise have been. The demo code showed a lot of humour and also a high level of the understanding of the problems.
This led into discussion of why certain protocols work the way that they do and, in many cases, it’s because people wrote things that would work for the network of the ’70s and ’80s. These days, with the Web, video streaming and on-line gaming, we have different requirements in many senses and now that the students have written some code and tried some things, they’re ready to start thinking about the “whys” and the “hows” and, most importantly, the “what nexts” of the network.
It wasn’t a long day as the amount of work that had gone into the programs reduced the amount of time I had to spend explaining concepts (funny, that). After a quick design workshop on what the next assignment should look like, where everyone took part in forming ideas as to how we would build it, we broke early to give people more time to work on what they wanted to do.
Goodness – work done early leads to extra time for tasks later? Who thought that would ever work!
I’ve been trying to get a good picture of the Run Run Shaw Science Building, which is far more striking than it ever is in my photos, so here’s one I found on Wikimedia. It gives you some idea of the striking nature of CUHK – buildings nestled among the trees on the hillside.
We’ve built this course so that, while the students work reasonably hard, there are still days off and time to explore the new country – why on Earth would you take students to a different city that they then don’t get to see? Today’s expedition was MTR down to Tsim Sha Tsui and on to the Star Ferry to take the classic trip across the Hong Kong Harbour. It was a gorgeous day and we sat up the front to get good breeze and view – here they are!
There’s always something happening in Hong Kong and, on the walk across the land fill towards City Hall, we ran across a movie being shot. We watched it until we chased away for “getting in the way” which I think is movie-making speak for “eh, go away”. After some questionable navigation due to the many changes in the area (sorry, everyone) we made it to Maxim’s and got a seat straight away. Fortinately, one of the students speaks Hokkien and some Mandarin which, combined with some pointing, got us an amazing feast of yum cha. Here’s the view from my seat:
It was great to relax and just hang out as we talked about all sorts of things and just enjoyed spending some time in a new place. The course starts again in earnest tomorrow at 9am, and the students have some work to do, but I left them to wander in Central – I think most of them were heading for the Peak as it was a most delightful day! Here’s a picture of what it looked like as we walked around:
Well, all of the students appeared again today so everyone made it through the night and managed to make it back to class. Hooray! More seriously, I’m now tracking the student attendance (which we usually don’t do) in order to make sure that I know immediately if something goes awry. The students are also happy to move as small groups, which gives me a little more peace of mind. I’m not here to chaperone them and they are adults AND Hong Kong is a safe city but you always have that niggling concern when you are, even vaguely, in loco parentis.
I now have all of the photo releases back so I can show you some pictures of the class in action. The students are in two table groups of 5: Team Elephant and Team Mongoose, because I refuse to number or alphabetise them. (The students are going along with this, before anyone wonders.) I like to get the students up and working on the boards, as well as doing group discussion at their tables, and we are getting the groups to cross-present, share ideas and be a lot more discursive than we would in a traditional class. You can see the groups are also checking out each other’s work in the photos (which is both allowed and encouraged – the group formations are as arbitrary as their names).
Tomorrow, we’re off to Central (the island) to take a ferry ride across the Harbour and eat dim sum at Maxim’s City Hall. This will bring most of the students on to Central for the first time (they headed off to Mong Kok on Monday for some quick adventure but they haven’t been further south than that yet on the peninsula). Then, on Thursday, they’ll be presenting some small programs that I asked them to write based on some lecture notes on network programming. Thursday will be a flipped activity – content first, including code production, presentations to the group and then a design lab to go through the points raised and to help them produce a good specification for their first “real” assignment, which is due on Monday. The course is very fast-paced so I’m trying to put in some good staging and scaffolding, but also taking advantage of the good things of the group (distributed problem solving) while still allowing individual demonstration of skill (code production).
Tomorrow is a “rest” day so I may not blog but I’ll definitely tell you how things go on Thursday!