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      Public course selection platform for WHUers——Taoke
      Author:Yi Xinran  Date:2019-06-29  Clicks:

      On February 15, nearly five thousand students checked and selected public elective courses on a mini program embedded in Wechat, named Taoke, At 9am the system reached a peak flow. Such a short burst of activity had occurred before, but this time, the volume was higher than ever and thus overloaded two existing servers, leaving some users with an access exception. An immediate extended supply provided by Aliyun Elastic Computing service increased the cache and reduced the average load of the servers. Services were restored by 10:50 that morning.

      As a freshman from the School of Resource and Environmental Sciences, Ma Chen first came across Taoke in the Freshman Manual. Out of personal interest, he mainly kept an eye on social sciences and arts courses. He completed course selection on February 15, the first day of the course selection season. After viewing comments on Taoke, he submitted options for six courses simultaneously, two of which were picked successfully, Modernization of the Universities and A Brief History of Chinese Literature respectively. “I read both data and remarks presented on Taoke and found the platform helpful, so I recommended it to my friends,” said Ma Chen.

      In Chinese, Taoke means “course seekers”. On the Taoke mini program and website, information about almost all university public elective courses can be found. Course relation information is presented in pie chart form in terms of attendance, lecture quality and grading.. Likewise, reviews submitted by students who previously completed the courses can be viewed. Based on this data, rankings are made available on popularity, grading, teaching quality, attendance and highest percentage of male and female students..

      Among around 400 public elective courses in WHU, New Concept of the Universe taught by Zhao Jiangnan from the Electronic Information School ranks first in all criteria including popularity, grading and lecture quality. Up to this semester, over four thousand students have taken this course. As some students commented on Taoke, “Prof. Zhao is such a humorous teacher who always shares with us his own experiences”, “a professional course for astrophiles”, “thought-provoking and really worth taking”. Similarly, another course, Mobile application analysis and creativity set up by Zhang Shuguang from the School of Computer Science was described as “active” and “mind-expanding”. It was noted in the comments that in this course and under the guidance of Prof. Zhang, students played sudoku puzzles and Texas Hold’em poker on smartphones, which is a unique way of teaching. Until this term, there have already been over 1,400 courses presented on Taoke, over five times more than when it was first founded.

      On Taoke, students can select courses based on grading, credit, field, etc. By inputting their account name and password of the Educational Administration System, students can submit course selection information and the system will automatically and repeatedly submit it to increase the chances of pitching on the courses. “Taoke mimics a user’s operation on the internet by employing your account information to log into the system,” according to Song Kailun, the director of Taoke’s operations team ,“circular submission is much like snatching train tickets in the Spring Festival. The action will be repeated until you finally select the course, after which you will be informed via text message.”

      Taoke’s course selection and comments page

      Song Kailun ,a sophomore from the School of Computer Science took over Taoke in May 2018 and put forward the project to set up Taoke, a WeChat mini program in September in 2018. The team then was formed and led by Jiang Liwei, Song’s schoolmate, who was in charge of the technology group. The team was mostly made up by freshmen and sophomores and was divided into a technology group, an operations group and a User Interface (UI) group. An overall structure and development was completed by the technology group, with the front-end developing the mini program as well as writing codes of pages and interactive parts, and the back-end developing and utilizing Application Programming Interface (API) to provide data for the front-end. The task for the UI group was to design the course logos and appearance of the webpages. Apart from being the bridge between the tech group and the UI group to reflect the user feedback, the operations group also undertook marketing and promotion work. Also, Song applied for the access address of public network IPv4 from the Network Center during summer vacation, laying the foundation for database migration.

      Task processing in Taoke is currently deployed on three servers, two of which were acquired from WHU’s network center and one from Aliyun. During the 2019 spring vacation, Taoke migrated,  deploying data resources from former servers to the new ones, which enabled the system to contain more course details. After that, Taoke conducted a close beta test, fixing problems including interaction inconvenience and function unavailability. In February, the latest version was released, the one that is currently in use.

      “We voluntarily joined the project out of interest and spent our spare time on it,” said Jiang Liwei, “the biggest technical difficulty is to promote Taoke’s optimal performance to ensure accelerated response to requests and increase concurrency and throughput” With no experience in optimizing database performance, the team had to start from scratch and learn to code all by themselves.  

      Song Kailun, director of the Taoke operations team

      Designed by Ziqiang Website (the predecessor of Ziqiang Studio), Taoke has been in operation since 2014. In the beginning, the team behind the website established a BBS platform where students shared course materials and gave evaluation. The first promoters of Taoke noticed that, as the number of elective courses increased sharply, a large number of WHUers experienced difficulties with their choice selection. Their questions were: what are the courses about? Will they suit my interests? What will I be doing in class? The course teachers would also wonder how their classes could appeal to more students. “Seniors”, the title given to former members in the Ziqiang group, put up the slogan, “Establish Dianping.com in Public Elective Courses”. Dianping.com is a Chinese consumer review site which launched the first comments service at home and abroad in 2003. The first version of Taoke was completed within 3 months. It was promoted to the public at the start of the 2015 spring semester with the main functions including collecting course materials and presenting comments from the class attendees.

      An improved version was released in the first half of 2015 when functions such as class grading and selection were available. The major development was the advancement on the capacity of back-end caching technique to allow handling of more users. From 2014 to 2019, the user volume rose from 5,000 in total to 7,000 page views a day. In recent years, mini programs on WeChat have attracted more and more users, which presents a challenge to the proportion of websites and applications. Realizing the importance of the user experience, as well as adjusting to mobilization of the Educational Administration System where Taoke derives course information, the Taoke team set out to develop the mini program.

      In the next version, users will be able to search courses on the basis of their schedules, the average score will be displayed on the course detail page and choice remarks will be presented on the top of the comments page. Besides, Taoke is trying to make appropriate recommendations for students through mining historical data. “The future improvement will focus on updating the website and the Wechat mini program. As the only internet platform in Wuhan University where students autonomously submit course selection and share comments, Taoke will make improvements to the amount and quality of course resources. We do hope that students with a strong passion for Internet exploitation will join our team, enjoying the distinctive atmosphere in Ziqiang Studio,” Song sincerely extended his invitation.

      Members of the Taoke operations team dining together

      Edited by Xu Yixian, Wei Junyi, Shi Weiya &Hu Sijia

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