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I am a teacher in Computer Science at a relatively large university with about 2k students enrolled in our bachelor and master programme combined. This morning I sent an email to our programme management proposing we investigate the use of an enterprise version of Stack Overflow for our full bachelor and master programme combined (see below for extracts from this email).

My question to all of you is: do you have experience using an enterprise edition of SO in an educational setting beyond just one course? If so, would you recommend pursuing this idea?

Happy to hear your thoughts! (Apologies if this is not the right place to post this)

Excerpts from the email (background on why I think this would be a good idea):

I am currently reading "Reality is broken: Why games make us better and how they can change the world" (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7821348-reality-is-broken), in which the author describes the huge success of initiatives like Wikipedia and gamified collaborative approaches like discovering how much money British MPs have declared vs how much they were actually entitled to.

This made me think: What is the incentive for a student to help out another student at the moment? More specifically, what is the incentive for say a first year master student to help out a first year bachelor student? For TAs there is an incentive: a salary, but for all the other hundreds of students there is no incentive at all. This is a huge amount of (wo)man power that we could utilise to improve the amount of resources available to all students. If all students were to contribute 5 minutes a week, that would be still be about 83 (wo)man hours of work (2 FTE!) available every week.

A second observation is that the current (digital) communication options for the purpose of Question and Answering are limited at best. Our educational platform's forums feature no search option, no incentive to answer questions of your peers, and perhaps most importantly no history over multiple years.

Fortunately computer scientists already use a platform that solves most of these issues: StackOverflow. It features one of the best searching functionalities I have ever seen on a website, has excellent opportunities to store history over multiple years, and (most importantly to the long-term success of such an undertaking) has an excellent system in place to provide incentives to not only post good questions, but also post good answers.

As a new user, all you can do is post and answer questions, but after getting some "reputation" for you answers and/or questions, you can start giving such "reputation" to others by upvoting their questions. Note also that downvoting can only be done by "even more recognised" users.

In addition to reputation, there are also a wide variety of badges that can be obtained. I would be interested in looking into awarding additional extra badges (on top of the existing suite of badges: https://stackoverflow.com/help/badges) for TA'ing courses. This would be a nice digital counter part to the physical badges we currently award (and of course a lot cheaper and more easily available).

I think we should think carefully about how this could be deployed if we want to pursue this. The main issue is going to be the "getting started" phase of course.

My brief outline for the proposal would be the following:

Advertise it to all computer science students in the faculty (both bachelor and master).

Start of all employees with 1000 reputation (allowing them the privilige of being an "established user").

All TAs start with 50 reputation (allowing them to post comments and upvote questions and posts, this way the reputation can start to flow).

We encourage TAs to answer questions on this site during "quiet" lab hours.

In short, I feel that we should leverage the fact that we have over 2000 students walking around that are all training to be experts in Computer Science. We should make sure there is a clear incentive for students to share their growing expertise with each other.

EDIT (17/05/21):

We have now been using SO for teams in our bachelor programme since September 1st 2020 and so far I'm very pleased with the results :D Feel free to reach out to me if you want to discuss about how we have been using it.

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  • There is a Computer Science site in the network, and also CS Educators, dedicated to teaching CS. Would those work for your needs?
    – fbueckert
    Jun 25 '19 at 13:43
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    You may want to look at this related question. Also, you're of course welcome to point your CS faculty to ask questions about teaching CS at Computer Science Educators! Jun 25 '19 at 14:01
  • @fbuekert thesecretmaster, those are good suggestions for faculty and myself to ask questions :) I was not aware these exist. But I feel this idea could also work for other study programmes, so this place might still make sense...?
    – MrHug
    Jun 25 '19 at 15:05
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You've done a really great job of writing up some of the huge benefits of our Q&A platform! It's really awesome to see when someone finds Stack Overflow to be an important part of the development process and wants to help introduce their students to it. It can be difficult to get accustomed to asking questions on SO and a private community might be a good way to introduce new computer scientists to it.

While I think Enterprise is a great product, I think that Teams, which even has a special rate for educational and non-profit groups (info here), may be even better for your needs. Check out that first link for more information about all three and you can request a demo for Business or Enterprise. With your number of potential users, I'd probably go with "Business". Particularly in a university situation, the ability to pay by invoice at the Business level (rather than with a credit card) may be necessary.

While there is more customization of the experience in Enterprise, Teams is great because it allows you to search both Stack Overflow and your Team at the same time because it's hosted by us, directly on SO. So, your students may be able to get answers to their questions by checking SO and also see how people at your university have solved the problem with a single search.

If your professors and TAs are already using SO regularly, that means that they'll see indicators of new questions or answers in the left sidebar so that they can check the activity and respond if they need to without having to remember to check an Enterprise internal instance, which would be completely separate from public SO.

You'll also get notifications right in your SO inbox, so if a student pings their TA about a question they have, that TA will get a message on SO and can even get it sent to their email, if they wish.

But it still has a lot of flexibility outside of pure programming questions. If your students want to ask when a project is due or for a link to the syllabus, you can create tags for that "meta" content and even include specific years (e.g. cs101-fall-2021-meta) so that you can easily find and remove outdated course-specific content at the end of the semester. Alternatively, have a master Q&A with this info that acts as a FAQ and update it every year!

On top of this, you don't have to worry about reputation levels because most of the privileges are available with only one reputation point. You can make professors admins so they have a hexagon next to their username the way moderators on public SO are indicated with diamonds. We don't have a great solution for indicating your TAs (admins have access to more than you'd probably want to give them but...

Teams is still in development, so there are new features being investigated and implemented as we speak. If you try it out and have ideas for how to make it better, our Teams Team is listening!

I think Teams is great and I would have loved having something like it for Q&A when I was in school... and I wasn't even a CS major! I think the potential for this educational use is one we haven't really tapped yet and I'm excited that you're seeing that SO would be beneficial for your students.

If you need help sharing the info about Teams with your programme management, there's a helpful PDF on the Teams info page immediately below the top banner. It's designed for business/workplace settings, not academic ones, though. We have some great people in support who can help if you have more questions.

There are also great, smaller communities on our Stack Exchange Network for computer science that your students may find helpful, including Computer Science and Theoretical Computer Science (for your graduate-level students), and for your professors, I invite you to visit our Computer Science Educators site for topics relating to CS education!

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    Could Teams be attached to other networks besides SO? It sounds like they may be better aligned with Computer Science Educators. Such a capability would potentially open up Teams to many different types of professional groups beyond programmers (though I admit I have no idea if there is a market there.)
    – Ben I.
    Jun 25 '19 at 20:21
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    Thanks a ton for this detailed response @Catija, if you don't mind I'll leave the question open a bit as I am still somewhat hoping others have experience using SO like this (for more than 1 course, but whole programme). My main concern with using teams (or more likely business) is the cost. As for linking it with another SE-site, I feel SO or maybe Computer Science, would be the best fit. Although Computer Science for Educators is now on my to-watch list, I don't think my students have much interest in what goes on there necessarily.
    – MrHug
    Jun 26 '19 at 8:33
  • @BenI. As much as I'd love to say that we'll bring Teams to other sites, that's not in the plans at this point. We're focusing on building Teams on SO as there's still a lot of room for improvement and growth there. Who knows what we'll do down the line, though. :)
    – Catija StaffMod
    Jun 26 '19 at 20:45
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    @MrHug Don't feel like you need to accept this at all! I'm glad to have helped. Your Team could very easily be for an entire program, not per-course. My mention of tags was specifically to point that out. You could create tags specific to courses so that your students could sort down to only the questions about the course/s they're taking (or TA-ing) currently if they wished. But they'd still have access to all of the CS-questions. The cost will be there, regardless of the type of Team. Enterprise is significantly more expensive than Business, particularly with the education discount.
    – Catija StaffMod
    Jun 26 '19 at 20:49
  • Hi, I don't see any pricing for educational or non-profit orgs. Sep 23 at 21:25

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