Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Deadlines, the Programming Student, and the 3 Factor Assignment Risks

I know that deadlines drive us all. As I have often heard and said, “Deadlines are your friend.” The problem with these scheduled milestones is when you underestimate the task at hand. While I teach a programming class, let's consider a 5-page paper assignment. For some time, there has been a recognized analogy between writing and programming. As a college student at the 300 level you are accustomed to what is required for a paper. Unlike a writing assignment where you already understand the tools that you are using, word processor of some kind, and a use of the written language that you will be using, you are good to wait until the last day to start.

Specifically, within the typical scenario of a last minute effort there are three factors. One, the concepts of the subject of the assignment. This would include a basic understanding of both high and detail level principles about the topic of the paper as well as vocabulary used in the discipline. Next is the tool(s), as I previously stated, that you will use to compose the paper such a laptop, desktop, or tablet device which has some kind of word processing app such as Apache’s Open Office Writer, Microsoft Word, or a cloud based program such as Google Docs. Finally, the written language in which the work will be created. Typically, the student has a good grasp on the tools and language in which to write the paper. The aspect of the topic of the assignment can generally be picked up with a brief time of applied study.

Yet, this is not the case concerning a computer programming class that offers not only a set of novel concepts, but also a new tool as well as a fresh language in which you will express the desired outcomes. If all three aspects are new to the student, novel concepts, tool (Visual Studio), and language (Visual Basic) waiting until the day before or, perish the thought, the day when the assignment is due, this is at best unwise.

As a technologist that has been in the field as long as most of my students have been alive, I know that there are always what one would call “gotchas” when approaching a new endeavor. In short, these are issues that you do not expect or anticipate. In my long experience, for each project or effort, they happen almost each time. Moreover, if what you are working with is a new tool (Visual Studio) and a new language (Visual Basic), these are risks that must be mitigated. And, the part of the mitigation for any risk is to tackle it early. Therefore, do not wait to start your assigned projects on or even near the assignment deadline. The due date for a programming class assignment signifies the date in which you have met all three of the above factors, not just new concepts.

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