'It is extra important in corona time that we have this online platform.'
Strong knowledge community
More and more people are studying computer science at TU Delft. That in itself is a positive development, but there is also a downside. Students used to form a close-knit knowledge community, helping each other with assignments and other questions related to their studies. That community is in danger of falling apart: students are asking more and more questions, but are less inclined to answer questions.
Stefan Hugtenburg is a lecturer on the computer science course. He and his colleagues recognised this problem and started looking for a solution. Main question: how can we entice students to start helping each other again more with study questions. The solution: a knowledge-sharing platform with gamification elements based on the - to many science students already familiar - Stack Overflow platform.
Students get lost more easily, especially in corona time
Stefan: "When I myself studied computer science, also in Delft, there were 100 first-year students. Of course, I didn't know everyone personally, but at least I knew all the faces. Now there are 500 first-year students, so they know each other much less well. We see two things happening as a result: the group breaks up into a lot of subgroups, AND it becomes easier to get "lost" as a student. You are not so easily missed among 500 people. Especially in corona time, this is an important factor. When I submitted this project to SURF's Open and Online Education incentive scheme, there was no corona at all. But now it is extra important that we have this online platform."
2 birds with one stone
Besides engagement between students, there is another factor at play: as students answered fewer questions from each other, more questions came to the lecturers. They were already busy, and so often did not have enough time to deal with all the questions. So if students would answer each other's questions again, it would kill two birds with one stone: the students would become more involved with each other, form one group again, and the lecturers would be relieved.
How to achieve this? The secret lies in gamification: by adding a game element, students are more challenged to actively participate in the platform. In Stack Overflow, they get reputation points if they ask and answer questions, and also if their answer is voted best. This in turn allows them to earn badges. A form of friendly competition in other words. "And that seems to work," says Stefan. "I have already heard one student say that he had started answering more questions when he saw that someone had passed him on the leaderboard."
A second advantage of Stack Overflow is that it builds up a knowledge database. "The forums of our existing Brightspace environment are deleted at the end of each academic year, so a lot of knowledge is lost," Stefan says. "In Stack Overflow, all content is retained and therefore students can also find answers to questions that have been asked before."
Adoption of Stack Overflow is going well
The Computer Science programme has purchased and set up the Stack Overflow environment with support from SURF's incentive scheme. A pilot started in September 2020, focusing on undergraduate students. Stefan: "The adoption of Stack Overflow is easier than we thought. We now have around 1,600 users, which means that around 90% of the target group has visited the environment at least once. We are still going to do a comprehensive qualitative and quantitative project evaluation, but in a regular evaluation among students, some filled in unsolicited that we should definitely keep Stack Overflow anyway. So good signals".
'The Computer Science programme purchased and set up the Stack Overflow environment with support from SURF's incentive scheme.'
Interest from other faculties
If the evaluation shows that the platform is catching on, TU Delft will look at further expansion. Stefan: "The incentive scheme project will run until May 2022, after which we will consult with the university about further funding for the platform. In the meantime, we are looking at whether we can deploy Stack Overflow elsewhere within our Computer Sciences faculty. And even beyond that: I hear sounds that other faculties are already showing interest in our pilot as well."
Figures on Stack Overflow
(September 2021 - March 2021)
- 3,800 posts have been made.
- There have been 13,000 searches.
- Posts have been viewed a total of 138,000 times.
- About 90% of the target audience has visited the platform at least once.
- 50% of queries are answered within 2 hours.
About the Open and Online Education Incentive Scheme
Online education offers opportunities for innovation and quality improvement in higher education. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science provides funds annually for an incentive scheme to promote this.