Notes on MongoDB University Learning Platform

I’ve been learning a lot of interesting things from Codecademy’s course catalog, including the fundamental concepts of the “NoSQL” database software design of MongoDB. However, when Codecademy’s hands-on learning mechanism got stuck, I couldn’t see how those fundamental concepts translated to MongoDB practice. But that’s OK, the Codecademy MongoDB course was built in conjunction with MongoDB themselves, so I can try their own MongoDB University platform for learning online.

The switch does introduce some friction, though. Starting with the online learning platform itself. Codecademy rarely uses video lectures. (Which I appreciate, and more comments about content will come later.) When they do, they embed a YouTube video and let Google figure out the rest. MongoDB University hosts their (more frequent) video lectures on Wistia. (“Where Video Meets marketing”.) Wistia’s video player component has a slightly different interface from YouTube. The most annoying aspect of the Wistia player is lack of memory across sessions. I prefer playing the videos slightly faster than standard speed, and its lack of memory means I have to click the settings button to speed up playback on Every. Single. Video. I also prefer to turn on English captions, which meant more clicking on every video. Not every MongoDB University video had captions available, but I don’t blame Wistia for that. I do wish they followed YouTube’s lead and offer at least the option of imperfect (but far better than nothing) auto-generated captions.

Since I loved Codecademy giving us hands-on interaction with the material, I was happy to see MongoDB University courses also has a hands-on interaction component powered by Instruqt. (“The #1 Hands-on Virtual IT Labs for Product-led Growth”) For these exercises, Instruqt provides a mongosh (MongoDB interactive shell) command line in our browser window. It feels like they’ve spun up at least two Docker instances for each exercise: one container running mongosh, connected to another container running MongoDB itself. This works well as we get a known starting state for each exercise and, after we’re done, undo anything we’ve changed so the next person gets the same starting state. The downside of a browser-based command line is that we don’t get the full set of command-line keyboard shortcuts. I had to use mouse right-click in order to copy and paste because my preferred keyboard shortcuts didn’t work.

Another similarity to Codecademy are quizzes sprinkled throughout the course to test our comprehension of course material. User interface for these quizzes leave something to be desired. The first problem is when I clicked “Show Results”, I saw items I didn’t select displayed as “Incorrect”. I was confused for a few minutes, reading the explanation trying to figure out where I went wrong. Eventually I figured it out: I wasn’t wrong. They’re just showing me all of the explanations. I did not select the incorrect answer and that was the correct thing to do. That was very confusing. The next problem is literally the “Next” button on these quizzes. After finishing one question, I clicked “Next” to proceed with the quiz, only to get disoriented when the course continued with new material. Eventually I figured out there is a “Next” button to continue with the quiz, and it is near a different “Next” button which will abandon the quiz and proceed with the course. I clicked the latter when I should have clicked the former. This was a pretty bad user interface design but once I figured out what was going on, I could deal with it and focus on the course material.

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