ICS-E5020: Course feedback

Overview Statistics Numbers Comments Exercises Changes Challenges


Many thanks to all of you who took part in the course, and especially many thanks to all of you who gave some course feedback! Overall, 10 students passed the course and 13 students gave some course feedback — see below for more details. I am very pleased that so many of you gave course feedback, and especially that many of you also took some time answering the free-form questions.

This was now the second iteration of this course in its current form. Apparently there were still some major issues left in the implementation of the course — not all students were that happy with the course or the arrangements. Apologies! Fortunately, we got so much constructive feedback that we can definitely improve the course for the next year. One of the main changes will be a better grading system that will hopefully provide more motivation for solving exercises.

Thanks again, and see you again!

Jukka Suomela, on behalf of the whole course team.




We got course feedback as follows:

I am very pleased to see that all students who took part in the course actively also provided some feedback:

However, there is not that much data on those who did not complete the course:

Numerical assessment

“My overall assessment of the course”

4very good××××××××

(Note that the grading scale for 2014 was apparently a bit different, with e.g. 1 = poor, 2 = fair, etc.)

“Teaching methods supported my learning”


“I am pleased with my study effort”


Compared with the credits, course required…

1–2too little time×××
3right amount of time×××××××××
4–5too much time××××××

“Will benefit from what I learned”


Open-form questions


Overall, students seemed to be mostly happy with the general structure of the course. Teaching methods and teaching material support the learning, and e.g. lectures and exercises support each other. The learning objectives are clear, and they are consistent with the exercises and exams.

Mixed feelings

Many students seemed to like the approach that lectures and exercise sessions focus on informal intuition, while the textbook is rigorous. However, some students would have preferred to see more rigour in lectures and exercise sessions, and more focus on technical skills and formal mathematical proofs.

The arrangements of the exercise sessions received a bit of mixed feedback, too. Students seemed to be happy with the general idea that the sessions are primarily for learning. However, some students thought that the exercise sessions were useful only if the student is somewhat well-prepared, while others found exercise sessions interesting even if they had not had a look at the exercises in advance.

Some students were happy with the model solutions, while some students would have preferred to see more model solutions.


By far the weakest part of the course seemed to be the grading of the exercises, and in particular, the lack of sufficient incentives for solving exercises. In particular, it was possible to get a good grade by just doing well in the exams, without solving any exercises.

Another weak point seemed to be the level of difficulty in the lectures: multiple answers complained that the lectures spent too much time on simple things.

Evaluation vs. comments

Most of the open-form answers are from students who gave an overall assessment of 4 or 5.

Students who gave an assessment of 3 did not leave any comments.

The student who gave an assessment of 1 commented that the course is too theoretical.

Early feedback on exercises

In addition to the feedback at the end of the course, I asked all students to give some feedback on the exercises and exercise sessions already in September 2015.

We got answers from 14 students. Here is a brief overview of the feedback that we got.

Level of requirement

What is needed

Reasons for non-participation in exercise sessions

What will change for 2016

Grading of exercises & incentives

The grading system is clearly broken. Many thanks for the feedback, I understand it now. Much better incentives are needed.

We will have a different grading system next year. The current plan is as follows:

I hope this approach will give much more motivation for solving exercises. There will also be additional incentives for solving more challenging problems.


Based on my experience in the previous years, some students have found it difficult to understand the basic concept of a distributed algorithm. Therefore I have tried to work hard to make sure that everyone gets the basic ideas right.

Based on the feedback, I have apparently overdone it. The lectures were too elementary, with too much time spent on simple things. The students would have probably got more out of the lectures if we had spent more time on slightly more challenging material. I will try to adjust the level a bit for the next year, and in particular I will try to make sure that the lectures are also interesting to those students who already understand the basics very well.

That said, I do not think there is need for major changes — participation in the lectures was fairly good in comparison with e.g. the number of students who took part in the exams, so apparently most students had the feeling that they are getting at least something useful out of the lectures.

Main challenges for 2016


There was at least one student who was apparently very unhappy with the fact that this course is about the theory of distributed algorithms. I do not quite know how to respond to this.

I think the name of the course (with the word “algorithms”), as well as the description of the course in Oodi and in the course web page (“…an introduction to the theory of distributed algorithms…”) are already fairly explicit. In the study guide this course is listed under the theory-oriented track of Algorithms, Logic, and Complexity. Therefore I think the nature of the course should not be a surprise.

If students are interested in more practical courses related to distributed systems, there are already plenty of options available, e.g., Scalable Cloud Computing. Our course is the only course related to the theory of distributed algorithms, and therefore I do not have any plans to change the topic of the course.

Participation & feedback

This year there were 26 registrations but only 10 students took part in both midterm exams. Students who completed the course gave plenty of useful feedback, but there is little information available on the reasons for not completing the course. I will try to find ways to get more feedback from those students next year, but apparently it is not going to be easy. Students who have lost interest in a course seem to lose interest in providing any course feedback, too, and it is difficult to come up with incentives that would help there.