"For my courses, it’s the clear number one learning platform. And I expect it to only get better."
When Dr. Joshua Nahum began teaching computer science at Michigan State University, he bumped up against a 500-plus learner challenge – one that all university level instructors can relate to:
How to efficiently scale instruction for his massive “Intro to C++” course in a way that benefits both his learners and fifteen TAs?
At the time he took over the course, students emailed in their coding assignments, then TAs ran them, issued grades and printed out the code with comments and annotations. It was an unwieldy process Dr. Nahum set out to improve, testing both custom solutions and commercial learning applications.
A year ago, he spent “dozens of hours” comparing the top coding learning platforms to find the best one for his classrooms. He landed on Coding Rooms.
“My eyes haven’t wandered since.”
We asked Dr. Nahum why he chose Coding Rooms as his go-to learning platform.
“In my large classes, I offer too many assignments to too many students to manually evaluate their individual code,” says Dr. Nahum. “Without Coding Rooms’ advanced auto-grading it would be impossible to scale to 500 students.”
“The big thing we need is flexibility,” states Dr. Nahum. “There are a lot of learning platforms that support the easy stuff, like input-output test cases without any special behaviors or editors. That only works for low-level courses.”
Coding Rooms provides Dr. Nahum with richer options, like powerful unit test cases, automated feedback and other tools he can apply to both his intro classes as well as to his 400-level courses. The platform also gives Dr. Nahum and his team additional advantages, like the flexibility to determine who can access his course content, and when.
“For example, I can integrate hidden test cases into assignments that give students transparency only when I want them to have it. So they can see when they’re failing these tests and are prompted to contact instructors, rather than just push out a glut of hard coding,” he explains.
How does the platform perform for his students?
“I judge how hard applications are to use by the number of questions I get from students who are unsure of how it works,” says Dr. Nahum. “I get very, very few queries from students about Coding Rooms.”
Adds Dr. Nahum, “I want to make sure that my students aren’t fighting with the platform and instead they’re fighting to write great code that achieves a particular purpose. I think Coding Rooms helps them do this very well.”
Policies are central to Dr. Nahum’s class management. In the past, he designed his course policies around the limitations of the learning applications he was working with. For example, on the previous platforms wasn’t able to offer his students late periods or extensions, and instead set overall syllabus policies to approximate these, like dropping the lowest grades.
Coding Rooms solved this problem by offering instructors like Dr. Nahum the ability to easily establish a wide range of robust policies for their classrooms.
“It seems like a small thing, but it’s really powerful as an instructor to be able to, say, give an extension to a student who’s been ill, with just a couple of keystrokes,” says Dr. Nahum. “I can be a lot more permissive for granting extensions if I don’t have to put an event in my calendar to make sure I received the assignment and then grade it manually, especially for 500-plus students. The system takes care of all this automatically.”
“And students benefit too, because they can check out particular policies on the platform without having to reach out to me,” adds Dr. Nahum. “That makes life a lot easier for them.”
Coding Rooms offers a built-in IDE that supports over 50 languages. And it also integrates powerful professional-grade IDEs like VS Code, Jupyter Notebooks and RStudio, so learners can use them directly from their browsers on any device.
“We mostly use the VS Code Editor for my C++ course because it has an embedded debugger,” says Dr. Nahum. “It’s a really powerful addition to the platform.”
Dr. Nahum adds learning content and documentation into his Coding Rooms courses together with IDE questions, multiple choice questions and other assessments. “Building content on Coding Rooms has actually been much simpler than on many other platforms that I’ve tried,” says Dr. Nahum.
“I taught a database course this past semester and it took very little time for me to convert the material into a Coding Rooms course and add the test cases, and things like that.”
And in response to student requests, Dr. Nahum recently created a Coding Rooms course with his lectures and slides that’s available to anyone, using the platform's “public course” feature.
“I would love more people to use Coding Rooms, because the more different points of view, the better the platform will be,” says Dr. Nahum. “For my courses, it’s the clear number one learning platform. And I expect it to only get better.”
Coding Rooms Benefits for Professor Nahum: