The NUS Facebook Module: A student’s perspective

6 05 2008

Facebook logoExams have just come to an end for me today! (Woohoo! FINALLY!). It has definitely been an interesting semester with me being in the pioneer group of 2 subjects, one of which is the famous Facebook module. Reflecting on all that’s happened in the past 5 months, I thought some of you might be interested on how the Facebook module went considering the many pre-semester “speculations” about it. So here’s a quick write-up of my experience and thoughts. All comments and questions are welcomed! 😀
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Quick introduction (skip if you already know what the module is about…)
For starters, the official name of the module is CS3216: Software Development on Evolving Platforms. The main objective of the module wasn’t so much to teach students how to create Facebook applications but rather to learn how to use Application Programming Interfaces(APIs) of various web platforms (Friendster, Open Social) to create applications. As Facebook is one of the rapidly growing platforms among students in Singapore, it became the choice of this module. Class is very small with a total head count of 51 students from various faculties (including Law). For more info, read the official introduction here.
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The class structure…
Many thought that non-computing/engineering students won’t be able to contribute much as they can’t code but this turned out to be quite different because of the way the class is structured. The assignments are very open ended with only minimal requirements. By requirements, I don’t mean concrete things like “Your application must be a wall that people can scribble on” but rather “Your application should allow interaction between users and those interactions should be visible to others“.

Grading for the assignments is not based on technical aspects alone either with 70% awarded for meeting stated requirements and 30% for creativity (Final project is FREE FOR ALL with no requirements). Hence having a team with technical prowess alone is not enough to do well in this module. It takes a combination of various skill sets like creative-thinking, design, marketing and coding which gave room for everyone to contribute in their own respect.
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Opportunity to explore
To be honest, I didn’t do much coding even though I am a Computing student (I hate coding!! ^^;;). I contributed more in terms of idea-generation, conceptualization, user interface and incentive design. The way the class was structured allowed me and I believe others to really focus our skills in where our interests truly were and take the leap to try out new things. For example, I got a first hand experience at game architecture and mechanics design which was waaay more brain-draining than I expected. (If I’m not wrong, some musically-inclined people got to show their composition skills as well)

However not everyone had the opportunity to delve deeper into their interests. I know a few who wanted to improve their PHP coding skills but as there was a shortage of talent (e.g: design), they ended up doing what they do best for the benefit of the team. I guess I was lucky to be in teams where both my interests and skills were complementary to the rest of my team members.
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Do what you like for homework
Yea!! This is the part I can’t stop loving. I used to complain and whine about how university assignments take up so much time that I hardly have any left to work on my own ideas. This module was an opening for me. Due to the open-ended nature of the assignments, we could literally do ANYTHING we wanted for homework. From the list of applications created for the final project, one can see that majority of the class’ interest lied in games (guess it goes with the class being composed of more guys than girls). How many modules allow you to work on your dream idea and earn credits for it? 😀


Some cool games: Farm Wars 2, Ant Rush, Alt Real and Law School (Haha the concept behind Law School is interesting.)

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Exposure exposure exposure…
I’d say that the learning curve is extremely steep for this module not in the technical sense but in the post-production segment. Being on Facebook, most of our applications are exposed to the public and hence there is a lot of work to be done once user feedback and statistics start trickling in. I find myself spending more time cracking my head on how to convert user feedbacks into changes that lead to improved user experiences than development. Of course this is not a bad thing because how often do you get to show your homework to the world and know what people think of it? This is definitely one of the most practical module I’ve taken at NUS thus far.

Another element that my professor and teaching assistants have been working hard on was getting exposure for our work and skills among business people. There were many sessions where we could meet with company CEOs, form potential partnerships and showcase our work to them. Even though not many teams took up the deals offered during the company pitching session, it resulted in a few interesting outcomes:

MTV MyCribs which is a Facebook version of yes, MTV Cribs haha.
RateMyTurban, Facebook version of RateMyTurban.com.

(And of course not forgetting the free lance project opportunities out there from the exposure…)
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Lastly, is this module for everyone?
The workload was definitely heavy towards the 2nd half of the semester when all the other module deadlines started clumping up leaving most of us with sleepless nights. With 3 assignments, 1 application seminar presentation and 1 final project, I have to say it was quite a handful for many to handle including myself but most of us pulled through in the end. Then again, the module is still new and many things are being changed as more feedback is provided. I heard that the next time this module is offered, the workload will be 2 assignments and 1 final project and they will be less open-ended (and it’ll be using Adobe AIR? Cool!). To tell you the truth, MOST OF US stressed ourselves out not because the module was hard but rather because we had high standards to meet set by our classmates. After seeing stunning applications created in Assignment 2, most of us tried to create even better quality work for Assignment 3 which burnt out a lot of us.

Personally, I think the module is more oriented for students who love a challenging and risky but creative environment. With no bell curve, no exams and open-ended assignments, brute hard work is not going to help much in this module without the passion and creativity for your projects. The module’s focus is not about creating viral Facebook applications with 100K users(but of course if you do I’m pretty sure you’ll definitely get an A) but more on helping students learn be it in terms of coding, design or even communication. Hence I believe students who like to explore new things and challenge themselves in a rather open environment focused on practicalities will be well suited for this module. 😀

Note: If you want to check out all the applications created for the final project, go here.

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6 05 2008
Facebook » The NUS Facebook Module: A student’s p…

[…] Techdirt. wrote an interesting post today on The NUS Facebook Module: A studentâs p…Here’s a quick excerpt[ Facebook logo]Exams have just come to an end for me today! (Woohoo! FINALLY!) … ) of various web platforms (Friendster, Open Social) to… […]

8 11 2008
NUS “Facebook” module info session « Bits & Bytes make a Bitbot

[…] etc so do drop by if you’re interested in finding out more. I wrote an article about my experience with the module but coming semester, I heard that things will be quite different in the sense that […]

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