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We spoke with Professor Armando Fox of UC Berkeley and Professor Wei Xu of Tsinghua University about their collaboration onEngineering Software as a Service CS169.1x and its journey from an on-campus class to a MOOC and from California to China and beyond.

How did you meet?
Armando Fox: I met Wei in 2003 at UC Berkeley when he was a Ph.D. student.

Wei Xu: Armando and David Patterson, his co-instructor on CS169.1x, were my doctorate advisors at UC Berkeley.

When did UC Berkeley first offer Engineering Software as a Service and when was it offered as a MOOC on edx.org?
Armando Fox: Ironically, the course originated as part of the research project Wei was on. We needed to develop Software-as-a-Service apps to show off our “resilient datacenter” research, so I put together a short course to teach undergraduates to do it.

The course was popular enough that we repeated it a few times, and one of our colleagues suggested that it might be the basis for a more engaging version of the “traditional” software engineering course, CS 169, so we took the plunge and expanded the course to fill that need.

As we were writing the textbook, which we had to do because we were disappointed with the ones our colleagues were using, we were invited by Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng to deploy part of the course as a MOOC on Stanford’s experimental platform (this is before Coursera was founded). It was very successful and a huge learning experience for us, and by the time Berkeley joined edX, the MOOC had matured substantially and became one of the first MOOCs edX offered to students worldwide in 2012.

Wei Xu: CS169.1x was very popular and caught my attention. After my doctorate, I worked in the industry for a few years before teaching at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. My professional experience provided me with a first-hand look at what type of skills are needed for a successful career. I realized that although we prepared our students with solid math, theoretical and computer science backgrounds, we weren’t teaching the necessary survival skills for software engineers, such as team work, talking to customers, working with legacy code, testing and SaaS operation. I thought this course might help bridge that skill gap.

Wei, why did you decide to offer CS169.1X in your classroom at Tsinghua University in a blended format?
Wei Xu: I was new to this discipline and didn’t have any prior experience teaching software engineering. I saw this as a great opportunity to learn something new alongside my students; they would learn software engineering and I would learn how best to teach it. I realized if I could borrow the material and course structure, it would be a huge help. So, I decided to try the flipped classroom model and incorporated the BerkeleyX online course into my on-campus class.

Was this around the same time that Tsinghua became an edX Charter Member?
Wei Xu: We actually started offering a beta version of this course on campus before Tsinghua University became an edX member. The version was experimental and innovative and caught the attention of the administration, and it served as a positive data point to support the university’s decision to collaborate with edX.

Armando Fox: There’s so much interconnection and synergy here—really a three legged stool. UC Berkeley and edX working together to offer a MOOC; edX and Tsinghua University developing a partnership; and a UC Berkeley and Tshingua connection through my relationship with Wei. Truly, Wei was a pivot point for all of us coming together.

And, the MOOC ultimately made its way to XuetangX?
Wei Xu: Yes. I’m part of the online efforts at Tsinghua and received lot of support in my work with CS169.1x, which was critical to our success. Tsinghua University and other leading Chinese universities launched XuetangX, an online MOOC portal for Chinese learners, powered by edX, which offered a translated version of Engineering Software as a Service. Six of my students who took the blended on-campus class became TAs for the MOOC. They helped translate course content and guided thousands of students through the MOOC.

Armando Fox: And, Hezheng Yin, who originally took the blended class at Tsinghua and then served as the head TA for the MOOC on XuetangX, joined me this summer at UC Berkeley as a research intern. Gathering feedback from students, he’s studying programming style and how to help students not only write code that works, but that is also easy for others to maintain. His research this summer will ultimately help improve the next run of Engineering as a Software Service. In so many ways, this MOOC truly connected people around the world.

Engineering Software as a Service completed its run on XuetangX last month. XuetangX plans to run more than 20 edX courses this year to help increase access to education for learners in China and throughout the world. For each course, XuetangX will pair a Chinese-speaking course team to collaborate with the original instructor. We look forward to bringing you more innovative and fascinating stories about how education connects teachers, learners and communities worldwide.

Guest Post: Professor Armando Fox and Professor Wei Xu