Spring quarter 2020 was a unique experience for CSE/CNS Professor Geoffrey M. Voelker, who has been teaching CSE 125/Software System Design and Implementation at UC San Diego for the past twenty years. As with many faculty this year, Voelker had to quickly prepare for a remote class that was never intended to be online. Normally thirty students work closely together in the CSE computer lab in teams of six or seven students and build a distributed, real-time, 3D multiplayer game. This year, because of the global pandemic, the entire course had to be reconfigured for team members to work together (remotely) and the final demo presentation, typically held in front of 200 people in the Qualcomm Institute auditorium Atkinson Hall, was held on Twitch.
CSE 125 requires close collaboration and interaction among the students in each group and having to work remotely added significant hurdles to an already challenging class. Communicating, brainstorming, pair programming and debugging, access to appropriate hardware, and fostering group dynamics were all substantially more difficult than when working in person. The students worked intensely together for ten weeks, yet could not even go to dinner together.
Despite having to work remotely, though, the students succeeded beyond Voelker’s expectations. They quickly took advantage of a wide variety of remote collaboration tools, including Visual Studio Live Share, Zoom, Slack, Discord, Trello, GitHub, and Google Drive. The projects they produced were as creative, inspiring, and impressive as in previous years. Take a look at the videos!
CSE 125 culminates in a final live demo presentation where the students show off everything that they have accomplished in a fun, festive atmosphere. During the quarter, there was a lot of uncertainty in moving the final demos to an entirely remote event. But working closely with the amazing Events team at the Qualcomm Institute (Calit2), they were able to produce high-quality live streaming demos on Twitch that resulted in another memorable final demo experience. Twitch chat was true to its reputation, with many CSE 125 alumni supporting the students during the online demos.
The tradition of guest lectures continued remotely too. Tansen Zhu from Jam City and Ed Wu from Niantic had given lectures in the course before and generously were able to give guest lectures again, entirely online. While the experience is not the same, and the students did not have the opportunity to interact with Tansen and Ed in person, the lectures went very smoothly, and the interactive chat was quite lively.
The students were thankful that CSE 125 was not canceled this year and praised Voelker for adapting the class to be remote on short notice. They also praised Edward Chen, the class TA, for his technical troubleshooting during the ten weeks. The weekly team morale reports submitted to Voelker and Chen were unique. They included a variety of phrases like “life is pretty okay’, “loving this indoor life,” “hate the virus,” “need more air,” “groups are doing work,” and “we are going places.” All the students agreed that working on the project kept them busy and engaged during the quarantine, and by the end of the quarter, they were especially proud of what they accomplished during this challenging time.
CSE 125 – 2020 Class Photo