Three UCL Computer Science students placed second in the national finals of the Microsoft Imagine Cup, and will go on to representing UCL and the UK at the world final in Seattle. The Scaffolding Exercise Assignment Tool (SEAT) helps students and teachers of programming by automating delivering and checking assignments, and will compete against 54 teams of global top students at the end of July for a top prize of $100k.
The Imagine Cup is a global competition run by Microsoft and aimed at developing the next generation of computer science experts. Teams need to use Azure, Microsoft’s cloud-computing service, to implement their ideas, and receive support from an expert mentor who offers feedback and help to develop ideas.
Team SEAT – students, Janós Potecki, Marco Concetto Rudilosso and Martí Serra Vivancos – were inspired by their experience learning the Haskell programming language. In lab sessions, students work on programming assignments given by lecturers. Teaching assistants are available to offer help, but their time is limited and they cannot go into much depth – leaving students waiting for the next week to compare their code with the model answers. The team wanted to make this system more efficient and easier for students and teachers.
Their answer: an interactive development environment (IDE), like the ones used by professional programmers, in which students can read, code and test their assignments. They wanted it to be easy for professors to create tasks, and to give real-time feedback on how students were doing so teachers can spot problems and adjust the curriculum accordingly.
The team implemented a Visual Studio code extension that allowed students to distribute and submit work without leaving the IDE, and check it with a single click. Then they added cloud infrastructure using Azure to enable easy data collection – teachers can create new assignments, upload them and distribute them, encrypted, to their students.
With a first proof of concept, the students showed their work to Geoff Hughes and Lee Stott from Microsoft, who suggested they apply for the Imagine Cup. The team developed their pitch with two mentors from Microsoft, before pitching SEAT at the UK National Finals, held at Microsoft offices in London. They won second prize and entry to the world finals. The team say:
“The day was an amazing opportunity to meet new interesting people, talk to people from industry and present our work to judges. We still cannot believe we came second – and even better, we are going to SEATTLE for the world finals! We couldn’t be happier with this result and are currently working hard to implement new features!”
Professor Nigel Titchener-Hooker, Dean of UCL Engineering, said:
“This is quite an incredible achievement and a huge testament to the students and their mentors. I, and everyone at UCL Engineering, is proud and excited for the team!”
The Microsoft Imagine Cup World Finals take place on the 27th of July, bringing together top students from across the world to learn from each other and industry experts. We wish Team SEAT all the best! More information about the project can be found on its website here.