Ambush Programming

Somewhat with little enthusiasm I marked today the recent exam for the semantic web course I had given this and previous year. What kept me going was the fact that this is not only the last exam for that particular course, but that it is also the last course for me, hopefully for a very long time.

The course had not been difficult or anything, quite pleasureable actually. And as usual I also experimented with new ways to explain stuff, new material, new tasks, and new exam question. One thing I tried was completely unplanned and adhoc: I call it now ambush programming:


I had realized that all student groups were using their own laptops to work on their assignments. So during a typical assignment check I would challenge the students in the group with tiny questions related to the problem and their solution.

This time I wondered how they would react when I ask them to extend their solution, or to adapt it to a slightly different problem. In any case that change would ripple through the whole system. And: the modification must be done stante pede.

To my surprise the vast majority of them were completely unpertubed by such a request. They simply shrugged. And then went about the job.

Which is eyebrow-raising as that particular task was to be programmed in a scripting language (Ruby, Python or Perl), something which was new to most of them.


I now wonder how this would have played out at Bond University. There, students effectively are college kids. If I would have pulled off such a stunt there, the girls would have fainted and the boys would have gotten violent. Or the other way round.

If I had used a new programming language (that is, not Visual Basic and not Java), then I would have had more difficulties:

"Robert, if we cannot do it in Perl, can we do it in VB?"

They sure would have complained to the dean about the outrageous expectations I would impose on them. I would have been reprimanded, the students would have gotten their fees returned.

And at the next opportunity the dean would give a speech about excellence, the independence of the university and academic freedom.

I miss Bond University. Much more fun.

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My EUR 0,02

IMHO, this "ambush programming" part was actually one of the most valuable & enjoyable features of the course. So much better (i.e., especially more reasonable) than the usual, tedious "I/O plain bullet point facts" stuff.

robi42 (not verified) | Sat, 07/18/2009 - 16:34

Re: most valuable & enjoyable

I also had this impression. With all actually.

The other thing I have not mentioned (yet) is that the exam is not only open book but also open notebook. My experiences so far were pretty good.

rho | Sun, 07/19/2009 - 14:31

no ESW2009, that's sad!

So unfortunately this means there is no course in WS2009 at the TU Wien.

This is quite sad since I already did some advertisement and told many friends to visit the next course. I really liked the course and learned important stuff. I planed to attend the lectures another time.

Really no more courses?

st (not verified) | Sun, 07/19/2009 - 14:11

Re: no ESW2009, that's sad!

So unfortunately this means there is no course in WS2009 at the TU Wien.

It is my understanding that ESW 2009 (WS) will take place. Martina (Seidl) will conduct it. She is much stronger in ontology engineering (and modelling) than I am.

rho | Sun, 07/19/2009 - 14:29

ESW 2009 (WS)

Good to hear that. I will defenitely enroll to that course. I've learned so many new things and I really liked ambush programming.

Kai (not verified) | Tue, 07/28/2009 - 15:12

Re: ESW 2009

Goodie, but I cannot promise that my "successor" is handling assignments that way.

rho | Tue, 07/28/2009 - 15:54