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[personal profile] carene_waterman
Version: I did the archived version of this course after it had first been offered in real time. I have no reason to believe the current offering has changed any. Web Development How to Build a Blog.

Status: Finished, passed all the assignments and the final. At the time I was doing it you got certificates for free courses, now you have to pay.

Who should consider this course? Anyone who wants to learn the concepts of web development without a lot of abstraction. Anyone who specifically wants to learn Google App Engine. Anyone who wants some real world insights into scaling web apps.

Who shouldn't bother? Anyone who wants to only and always let the framework do all the work. Anyone who hasn't taken some sort of programming course that includes object oriented programming. This is not a beginner course.

Review: I loved this course. It is possibly Udacity's best offering and it uses their interface very well while not getting too locked into it like some of their other courses do.

The class is presented by Steve Huffman, one of the founders of Reddit, and he provides a wealth of real world experience that makes this course an order of magnitude more mature than a lot of web app tutorials.

You go through and build a working blog site on Google App Engine, and everything is covered, routing, caching, security, database design, some intermediate Python concepts and using frameworks to make HTML.

The presentation is very good, Udacity's everything within the video frame style of delivering content is excellent. I find their interface clean and simple and I never have to struggle to find information I need.

Absolutely everything is video content, aside from the documentation for the framework, but this is the hands on a whiteboard style of teaching, not a static lecture. This system owes a lot to Khan Acedemy and isn't about teaching in the University style.

The accessibility of the content is poor simply because of the design of the Udacity interface. There are no transcripts, but there are okay in-video captions. Because quizzes are built right into the video playlist, and a lot of textual content is written out in the video, you could never follow this from textual sources unless the entire course was rewritten. I don't expect Udacity to ever do that.

The technical requirements for the course are minimal, you can run Google App Engine from any PC, Windows, Mac or Linux. (The Linux setup is complicated, but there are forum posts that show you how to do it. There are also tutorials on the web.) You do need to have Python 2.7, which might mean figuring out version switching if you've got Python 3 up and running.

This is Google. You need an account (don't know the current wallet name policy for this part of Google) that you can authenticate by phone.

The instructional content suffers a little from the expectations of the student's knowledge. Most of it is very quick and digs deep, but the early lessons are painfully slow introductions to HTML. Udacity assumes you've taken their intro to programming course, which is in Python and gives you the standard set of programming assignments to learn the basics with.

Unfortunately, I needed to get up to speed with Python, but the HTML stuff was very old hat.

Once over that early hump, the course builds on the basics to have you make genuine working live apps. The final exam project is a similar enough to the blog you've already built, but different enough to make you work at it, whole new app.

The suggested readings are the documentation on Google App Engine and the third-party frameworks used. More like real life than reading textbooks, you have to figure stuff out for yourself.

The grading mechanism for the course is fairly good. The Udacity grader is only as good as the tests that are written for the assignments, and some of them are a bit cursory, but none of them for this course were out and out faulty, something other Udacity courses can't claim.

The community for the course is a simple in house forum system, which leaves all the posts up for posterity, and you'll find new students coming along all the time. I liked it, it was fairly easy to find answers to issues, and there's no worries it's going to vanish, like with other courses using sites like Reddit and Stack Exchange.

Best and Worst: Steve Huffman. He could have been a brogrammer disaster and he's not. His talk with another Reddit guy about scaling was fascinating and he clearly knows what he's doing.

The front end. The CSS and HTML here is right outta the nineties. Ignore it.

Kvetching: Accessibility is ignored utterly. Mobile design is ignored utterly.

The early lessons really are tedious.

A little bit deeper explanation of the Google data store and how it is a no SQL system would have been good.

You can tell Huffman thinks of his students as a bunch of American men in their teens.

Kudos: Taking the topic seriously and digging deep into issues like caching and performance made this course worthwhile.

Presenting aspects like authentication and security at a lower level of abstraction than you usually get now.


Disclaimer: So, you hate MOOCs, think they're ruining education. Can't even stand the sight of the horrible acronym. Everyone needs the bricks and mortar experience. Just like ebooks ruin the whole concept of reading, so too do MOOCs remove the essential je ne sais quoi of learning. Plus, they're all just skater courses for people who can't handle the real thing.

If this is your feelings, you have my absolute blessing to go get a blog and tell the world. Just don't try my patience with it here.
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