Tips For The Class: Project Ideas

While brainstorming this class, we came up with a few sample ideas for possible projects. Note that you absolutely do not need to choose a project from the list below, and in fact, we'd encourage you to create your own project idea. These are just some ideas to get you started, and if one catches your eye, you can feel free to actually pursue it.

Things to Research

Gender in the OMS: diSalvo’s and Guzdial’s research notes a number of obstacles to women enrolling in the OMS: perceived animosity toward women in an online environment, perceived questions on the quality of the program, and other issues, leading to a higher gender disparity than on-campus programs. What differentiates women who apply to and/or enroll in the program from those that do not?

Retention: What factors predict whether students will remain in the program? Are they characteristics of students as they enter the program? Is it something that happens while they’re in the program? Can we improve retention, or is it strictly a function of the students themselves?

Student Success: What predicts student success? Is student success most predicted by factors of the students as they come into the program, or are there things that we or they can do that will improve their likelihood of success?

Plagiarism: What are the motivations behind plagiarism? Are they typically students who are overwhelmed and resort to plagiarism as a final option, or are they typically students that look to plagiarism as a first plan? Can we prevent it structurally (by providing the resources necessary to succeed) rather than preventing it by catching and penalizing it?

The Halo effect: Why do students react so differently to glitches and errors in some courses than others? Sometimes students are very understanding and patient when things go wrong, and other times they are incredibly critical. What determines which occurs? Can we create positive environments that encourage the former rather than the latter?

Angels and Devils: Some classes have been disproportionately impacted, positively or negatively, by the presence of certain individual students. Can this effect be quantified and replicated or prevented?

Breaking the Isolation: What experiences, especially based on interactions with teachers and other students, do online students tend to miss out on? What impact does that isolation have on the ultimate learning? What can we do to link them with others to break this isolation a bit?

Meta-Success: How do we define a successful class? Success at the student level is a common idea, but how do we define a class as a whole as successful? What metrics do we use? How do we populate those metrics? How do we validate those metrics?

Connectedness: Can we quantify how interconnected an online class is based on observable interactions? Can we connect those models of interconnectedness to levels of classroom success or failure? Can we make changes that encourage those types of interconnectedness that connect to classroom success?

Peer Feedback: How does peer-to-peer feedback improve the classroom experience for participants? How does access to peer review improve the feedback students get from graders? Does access to peer review change the grades that graders ultimately give to students?

The Harvard Business School (HBS) Case Method: The Harvard Business School Case Method is a way of approaching business courses to engage students. Though it was developed at HBS other institutions leverage the methodology for teaching their students.  Because much of the method revolves around synchronous discussions in the same space some faculty do not believe it is equitable to have an online method.  However, with many schools moving degrees online is the belief that a video conference is equitable true? If so does there have to be certain settings in the setup such as the instructor being able to see all participants while they are not talking to see their engagement level? Can you achieve the same outcomes with an asynchronous setup, and what would it look like? If nothing exists currently can something be built to achieve the same level of outcomes?

Things to Build

Forums: We've seen fantastic forum discussions in the OMSCS program, but at the same time, many students have noted several things about our current forum solution that aren't ideally suited for this program and these classes. Build a new forum system that's custom-tailored to the kind of closed, large, instructor-led classes we have in the OMS program. Some things to consider include: facilitating both Q&A and discussions; facilitating group work; managing information overload; facilitating both cursory browsing and in-depth search; managing official communications; and integrating with other tools.

Office Hours: Right now, we use at least three different tools for office hours in the OMSCS program: Webex, Google Hangouts, and Google Hangouts on Air. Each has its own benefits: the static URL and waiting room function of Webex, the easy recording and rebroadcasting of Hangouts on Air, the simple setup of Hangouts. Additionally, all three are missing some features we may need, like the ability to easily divide and recombine rooms for targeted discussion. Construct a single office hours solution that handles all the office hours uses cases we run into: 1:1 conversations, 1:many conversations, recording and rebroadcasting while remaining FERPA compliant, etc.

Attendance: For financial aid and some other programs, students need to demonstrate a certain attendance record to qualify for their aid. Attendance has no clear meaning in an asynchronous online course, however. Develop a definition for attendance in this context informed by the rationale behind these requirements, then develop a system that can actually monitor for attendance according to that definition.

Essay Autograding: Can essays be autograded? We'll likely always want to have human experts sign off on the quality of essays, but human grading takes a while and leads to a slower feedback cycle. Develop a system that can autograde essays based on a collection of past good and bad essays. In constructing this system, think especially on how such an autograder could generate immediate feedback for the writer so that they could improve the essay before submitting it. You might also extend this idea beyond just education: imagine an auto-editor for blog posts, news articles, or scholarly publications.

Managing Human Grading: Even as we continue to rely on humans to grade written or open-ended work, there are still a lot of places where technology can help. MOOCs rely on peer-to-peer grading, but there are questions about its reliability. Our OMSCS classes use expert human graders, but consistency between graders is not a given. Construct a system that will manage the grading process and automatically identify and emphasize more reliable peer-to-peer graders or identify and resolve differences between expert graders.

Detecting Plagiarism: Tools like TurnItIn already help detect plagiarism in written work, but with the requirement that work be then included in an archive for future users to test against. Can plagiarism instead be detected at the local level based solely on a canon of past work submitted in a class? There exist tools that do similar analysis as TurnItIn for programming, but they are not yet perfectly suited specifically for plagiarism detection. Additionally, code presents many more fair opportunities for copying that does not constitute plagiarism. Develop a system that addresses one of these problems, either detecting plagiarism of written work only within a local database or detecting code plagiarism with the ability to ignore cited code.

Identity Verification: The one edge case that has not yet been addressed (that we know of) in education (online or in-person) is the possibility of someone completing work on behalf of a student. Because the work is original, it would not appear in any online database, but yet still would not be the student's own work. Proctoring addresses this for short-term assignments, but we clearly do not want to proctor a student writing a 10-page essay in a single sitting or something. Develop a solution that would allow a school to proctor a shorter essay, then use machine learning to determine if future essays were written by the same student that wrote the proctored essay.

Group Formation: Many classes rely on group projects, but forming students into groups for group projects is an arduous process. Different classes have different constraints, and different students have different priorities. Develop a tool that could gather information about students and make recommendations about groups based on criteria and preferences entered by students and instructors.

Intelligent tutoring systems: Intelligent tutoring systems have been effective in a number of domains, like Algebra and Geometry. Build one for a new domain!

Academic Adviser: Develop an AI agent that can serve as a virtual academic adviser for students, answering questions on things like schedule formation, class prerequisites, readiness questions, etc. Ideally, construct it to take into consideration the student's own personal information, recommendations and reviews from past students, and intelligence regarding what kinds of students have succeeded and failed in other classes to allow recommendations like, "You might want to take Introduction to Operating Systems before taking Advanced Operating Systems".

Remedial Classes: This semester, Chris Pryby of Udacity has developed a new linear algebra refresher course to help students get prepared for classes like Computer Vision and Computational Photography. There are other subjects that students have reflected needing as well, like C and MATLAB. Develop a remedial course for one of these. Or, similarly, there are likely topics in other domains and other universities on which students need to be refreshed before moving forward. Develop a remedial class for any other topic. Or, for that matter, one person's remedial class is another person's regular class — so, develop a class!

EdTech Library: Could this library work better in a different format? Perhaps something constructed on WordPress that would allow more extensive linking and embedding? Maybe something that would lend itself to targeted discussion on specific topics that could then be aggregated into a more traditional forum? Reinvent this library in a way that makes it easier to find and navigate among topics and easier to have discussions. Remember that in doing so, you're actually creating a solution that could be used for any library like this.

Class Projects: You've taken a couple OMS courses already. Could the projects in those courses have been improved? Do you think you could modify the project descriptions to better bring out the learning objectives, or develop autograders or other tools to give more immediate feedback on progress on those projects? Could you create a tool to allow assignments for CS6505 to be completed on screen, or an evaluator for getting instant feedback on the performance on the Test and Raven's problems for a project in CS7637? Take a crack at redesigning those past projects.

TA Symbiosis: A lot of people in this class are TAing other classes, and ideally, many of you will go on to become TAs. A side goal for this class is that it would become a training ground for future TAs across the program to learn about education and technology. Use that alignment to improve the other classes on which you're working. Your EdTech project can be improving a tool specifically for another class in which you're involved, giving you a live test audience for whatever you develop.


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