As we enter the sixth year for the course, I’m contemplating making the biggest move we have made to date: We’re probably going to use repl.it to host most of our core infrastructure.
repl.it is a cloud-hosted service that provides a computer programming IDE, complete with interpreters and libraries in a cloud-based Linux environment, accessible in your web browser. Although it now supports more than fifty programming languages, its roots are in Python.
This might be a game changer for this class: with repl.it, students will no longer need to install Python or a text editor on their own computers; everything will live in the cloud. repl.it will also simplify problem set submission, commenting, and grading.
I’ve decided to make this big switch after playing with repl.it for only a week, because it has made such an amazing first impression on me. At the same time, there will be pain in this move, some inherent to disrupting a stable status quo, but some due to problems with repl.it itself, problems I can already perceive after only a week. These problems range from minor annoyances to major difficulties. Some of the problems stem from the repl.it way of doing things, complete with jargon and approaches that seem foreign to this experienced programmer.
Annoyance #1: For example, a “repl” is their word for a programming project, in other words a directory (or tree of directories) full of related files that all contribute to a single, unified “program.” It’s pretty far afield from the original meaning of the acrynoym!
As I work through these issues, I have decided to write blog posts documenting the journey. I imagine many other programming teachers are gearing up for the spring semester at this time, and others might be looking at repl.it. I am hoping my insights might prove useful to some of them. I will also use these blog posts to coordinate with my TAs and students, and to memorialize my thought process for the future.
Aside from being a paying customer, I have no relationship with the people who run repl.it. If they want to throw me some service credits to thank me for the unsolicited marketing, they should feel free to reach out to me!