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C'est la Z

Starting the new semester

Thursday was the first day of the new semester. The big change was that my classes were done remotely but there were also some other differences. Other changes were that I only met one of my two CS classes on Thursday. That's my CS0. I'm also teaching a recitation for CS1 which only meets once a week. I'll see those students as well as my CS0 students for a second time on Monday.

I opted to use Coding Rooms instead of Zoom since Coding Rooms has a nice built in REPL. We had a couple of students drop a couple of times and I had to reload once but even that's no worse than typical Zoom performance. It's funny how once one product becomes it everything that's different is labeled as harder and whenever there's a hiccup it's so much worse. The truth is, I've now used a bunch of platforms and none is harder than the others - you just have to look to different places. For example, in Zoom, you "raise your hand" by clicking in one place and in Coding Rooms (or Big Blue Button) another. Neither is inherently better - just different but people seem to think that the non Zoom one is worse just because Zoom got so hot so fast. Likewise, other platforms periodically drop people and crash but so does Zoom. This is all a digression but it's something that bothers me. Zoom does some things really well but then again so do the other platforms I've been playing with. So far, there's no silver bullet.

As you might imagine, class had a different feel. I think it went pretty well but it's certainly going to be harder to build a sense of community. Since there was a good deal of class logistics to cover we didn't really get to play with the Coding Rooms REPL but I'll report on that soon. I'll also mention that we're going to see about using Zulip instead of Slack for chat both in class and out. Like Zoom, Slack is the de facto standard but Zulip seems to have a few distinct advantages:

  1. It's open source
  2. You can self host it (and it's free if you self host)
  3. It's built around threads so I suspect it will be easier to deal with discussions both synchronously and asynchronously more easily.

The disadvantages are that there aren't as many integrations, most notably there's no Giphy and it's not the eponymous chat platform. Note that it's not that I don't like Slack but was driven to look for alternatives because I don't have a budget and the free tier has limited history and I believe integrations.

The other big change this semester involve our K12 CS teacher certification program. Our summer cohort kicked off there next two classes on Thursday afternoon and evening - Ethics in Computer Science and Curriculum Development for CS. I designed both courses but am not the official teacher. Topher and JonAlf who worked the summer with me are each taking one but I'm going to be very involved. We also had four students start in our Masters program. I'll be writing about all of this over the course of the school year.

Spent most of yesterday getting ready for Monday - setting up the Zulip server, GitHub repos and GitHub classroom and the like. As usual, I'm a slow starter but hopefully by mid next week will feel like I'm in the swing of things.

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