My new online education venture: Recursive Labs

Feb 27, 2012

My online education venture, Recursive Labs, is finally coming out of the testing phase. I have a bunch of students doing a test-run of my first course and I am planning to roll out more courses on a regular basis.

The major benefit of doing things online for me is that it makes things much more scalable - and I also get the opportunity to attract participants without any geographic restrictions.

For the students, I believe online classes provide a much more active learning experience.

Depending on the time at which students come to class, I used to call my regular classes "morning show", "matinee", "first show" etc. For many students, the class is just that - sitting as dumb spectators while the teacher provided "entertainment" on the board (or using an LCD projector). The teacher is the active agent here and the student is reduced to the role of a passive listener. I believe the online format helps in establishing the right equation - the teacher as merely a "mentor" while the student does the learning herself.

My first online course is an introduction to microcontroller programming using the TI MSP430 processor (and the inexpensive Launchpad development kit). The objective is to give the students a feel of "low-level" programming using a processor with a very simple and elegant architecture. The students are provided pdf documents/screencasts and they work out the material independently, interacting with me over a forum for clarifications. The code that they write is hosted on github (eg: a https://github.com/vijeenroshpw/MSP430Hacks).

I built a simple "course management system" using the amazing Play! framework. Given my distate for Java, I should have done the whole thing in Python/Django. But the creators of Play are such amazing geniuses that you wont feel any pain when you write a Play app using Java! With Play 2.0 shaping up nicely, you will also be able to write Play apps in Scala, and use interesting stuff like Anorm (for db access without an ORM) and Akka (Concurrency)!

Good front-end designers are very expensive - so it was great that Twitter released Bootstrap. You can sit down for an hour or two in an afternoon, do a bit of tweaking and have something up and running which will not invite ridicule! That was precisely what I did for my Play app's front-end! (It seems bootstrap comes integrated with Play 2.0).

I have plans for some exciting courses in the future ... in the meantime, if you know somebody who is looking to get into embedded systems + GNU/Linux, just tell them about Recursive Labs!

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