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Questioning Everything & Selenium – Rayna’s Weekly Intern Blog #3


Last week I did some hardcore data gathering. I interviewed 8 students and 3 lecturers to see if I should make a system for asking questions anonymously in lectures. Then I discovered Meetoo – a system already purchased by the university which does exactly everything that I was about to implement.

I figured another worthy idea was to make something like Stack Overflow but simpler and more geared towards students. Lecturers and students were fans of that idea generally, but I didn’t gather quite enough evidence that it was worth making.

At the end of the week that was pretty much the only idea I had for my project, and I wasn’t exactly sure of it either. Oh well!

This week – questioning everything

On Monday and Tuesday me and Patrick were trying to figure out what I should do. Because most of my data gathering was focused on something else, I didn’t really have enough evidence to back up any project idea, so we were questioning everything. Here are the main points that we came up with in our discussions:

  • The Stack Overflow idea has been attempted before in different ways, mainly STACS Overflow, which was ECS-exclusive and was discontinued due to lack of interest from students
    • It likely won’t be successful this time around either
    • The fact that students can answer questions means that lecturers are less likely to engage with it
  • Making a system for ECS students is more likely to be impactful than trying to make a system for the whole university
    • Because we can integrate it with the ECS Intranet where students will find it
    • Because I have way more ECS friends that I can interview (including interns)
  • Alternative idea – questions are sent privately to the lecturer and are only posted publicly if the lecturer chooses to publicise them
    • Forces lecturers to engage
    • May fail for that reason
  • Anonymity => students say mean stuff anonymously

After MUCH debate we settled on the following idea:

  • Tab on the module page on secure.ecs
  • Send a question to the lecturers for the module anonymously
  • Lecturers can choose to:
    • answer
    • dismiss
    • report
    • if answered, they can choose to post the question & answer for everyone to see
  • If a lecturer reports a student, the student receives a ban from the system
  • The module leader can choose to disable the Q&A system altogether

I made a very detailed document describing this idea on Google Docs, but it seems to have been reverted to a very old version. How?? Anyway..

I emailed Nick Gibbins (Director of Programmes for Computer Science) to ask for his opinion on this idea. He had some criticisms, but generally wasn’t 100% opposed to it, to my surprise. He was more of a fan of the Stack Overflow idea, but if I have to listen to the facts, it’s been done before and it wasn’t popular, so my hands are tied. 🙁

He also proposed to drop the anonymity part, because if someone abuses the system very badly a la Professional Development snafu, they would have to be de-anonymised to face justice, which might defeat the purpose of the anonymity. I think optional anonymity (tick box) is a good option to encourage people to not be anonymous.

It seems that the idea as a whole could work. Yay!


So there’s this problem on Pure where 7500 records point to a link which no longer exists. We aren’t allowed to fiddle with the database, so they have to be removed by hand.

I timed myself doing it by hand and it takes 20 seconds per record at the fastest. That means 38 hours in total of intense clicking.

Thankfully Selenium exists and I had explored it a little bit while working for the Quality & Test Team. As far as I’m aware, Selenium should be allowed, given that it’s the same as a super fast person clicking around.

I was given access to a sandbox version of Pure to play around in. First I made a program which creates records, because that part is even more tedious and time-consuming. I left it cooking overnight and I had ~500 records the next day. I then made a script which removes a link that partially matches a string. I tested it on 50 records and it worked flawlessly.

The only thing left to do is to modify it so it works with the live version of Pure (slightly newer) and the real records. Oh and also getting approval from the people that have given me this task.

Next week

  • Meeting people who will hopefully approve my Selenium script
  • Making a start on the Q&A project in Laravel
  • Learning what an authentication melon is (mod_auth_mellon)

Thanks for the attention – like, comment & subscribe!

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