A critical component of this programme that we take from other massive open online courses, is that the student cohort helps themselves through the problem.  One student’s problem may have been faced by many, and a good vehicle that helps to record questions and answer them is an important component in helping students find answers.

To address this, we are going to use askbot, an open source Django project that builds a forum similar to IVLE but with voting mechanisms and easy authentication via OpenID (e.g., Google account, FaceBook account).

We hope that all students will participate and help on the askbot forum.  Student’s participation will be a factor in the S/U grading of the student projects.

Jump to the Orbital Askbot forum here.

Why Orbital?

Well-rounded SoC-ians need exposure to the real-world computing’s opportunities and landscape before graduation.  This module is to encourage that important aspect of exploration and self-learning that is sometimes called “hacking”, so that students can be inspired right from the get-go in the first year, even before formal exposure to team projects and proper Software Engineering best practices in Level 2xxx courses.

It takes its local inspiration from two popular SoC modules: CS 3216 – Software Development on Evolving Platforms and CS 3217 – Software Engineering on Modern Application Platforms, which also encourage the same objectives.  But these courses give such opportunities to a select few, and typically only in their senior years.  Orbital hopes to bring this opportunity to all interested students and as early as possible.

Globally, it takes its defining structural constraints from the wave of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC), which are large online courses, characterized by recorded events and minimal teaching support.  Not graded, these courses have openly accessible materials, which students can watch, Cheap Portable Swamp Coolers watch and watch again, until they have mastered quadcopters for aerial photography the material.

For hacking skills, we are encouraged by Codecademy as methods for the layman to learn programming skills, and by HackerSchool to fine-tune these through intensive training.

imagesThe Orbital programme will be administered by fellow senior students, in the guise of training events such as workshops and hackathons, and also partially graded by your fellow Orbital batchmates through peer-grading.



Here’s a timeline for the structure of the programme (current as of 15 Feb 2013):

  • Jan 2013: Stakeholder interviews to give program its basic structure
  • Feb: Orbital programme launched.  Prospective launchees to express interest in programme to manage logistics.  Launchees also to express which self-selected level of achievements they wish to strive for.
  • Feb-Apr: Optional, Orbital-sanctioned workshops run by student groups.
  • Summer Week 1 (13-14 May): Liftoff: 2-day series of talks and workshops at SoC Seminar Room 1.  Matching of self-selected advanced groups with industry mentors.
  • May-Aug: Teams work on their progress.  Weekly reports to be filed.  Monthly check-ins and peer grading to be done by project groups.  Mission Control (weekly hacking) sessions to be held in SoC on weekend evenings
  • Sem I Week 0 (5 Aug): Splashdown (showcase) at SoC Seminar Room 1.  Final report to be submitted for checking.

After the summer term ends, students will be notified whether they have completed all of the necessary achievements for the pass (S), by Week 1 or 2 of Sem I.  If so, the students can enrol for the course and be guaranteed 4 MCs of unrestricted elective (UE) credit at the end of Sem I.

Orbital is a new School of Computing programme, designed to give first year students the opportunity to 1) self-learn and 2) build something useful.  It is designed as a 4 modular credit (MC) module that is taken pass/fail (CS/CU) over the summer1.

Unlike the School’s traditional modules which emphasize academic learning, this module leverages the growing opportunity that computing students at all levels have in building useful applications.  This skill does not normally come by formal training, but rather requires time, experience, trial-and-error to hone.  Information foraging for technical details on the Web can be difficult, but we feel that through a combination of self- and peer-help, students will be able to put together useful systems and generate confidence in being able to go beyond the basics, and seek solutions on their own.  In fact, computing is the only discipline whose output can scale dramatically; a single person’s work can affect millions of lives, everyday.

Our School does not teach programming prowess as formal coursework, as it is not academic in nature.  Orbital is one mode where young energetic students can fill this gap by their own initiative.

Read more about the Orbital programme’s structure in pages tagged with ‘orbital‘.

1Credit will be provided under CP3108B Independent Work.