(This is a reworking of Software for submitting and testing programming assignments.)
First, a bit of background. Many courses in applied mathematics have a programming component, where students are asked to implement algorithms (say, in Matlab) and possibly test them using a given set of interesting data. Although they are a valuable part of the education, these usually receive little love from the students (who, moreover, have rarely received a rigorous training in programming). The result is -- with rare exceptions -- lazy hacks at best and "at least it looks like code" (often followed by my favorite, "it worked on my machine") at worst.
So I am thinking about having students submit their programming assignments via an automated assessment software. The idea is to give them instant feedback on their (repeated) submission with the goal of
saving the TAs from having to check every submission and (if they are generous) inserting all the missing semicola to make the code run, and
trying to increase the student's motivation to do more than the bare minimum by introducing some gamification elements (giving points for the fastest/most accurate code, for example, or a current ranking to encourage resubmitting improved solutions).
Hence my question (which is hopefully relevant to other disciplines as well): Has anybody tried such a thing? Did it actually lead to less work and/or more student involvement? Any hints on what to do, and what to avoid?
(I know there is the VPL module for Moodle, and we have an in-house system that can provide the necessary functionality, so I'm not asking for software recommendations here. That said, if some software provides a specific feature you've used successfully, by all means mention it -- bonus points if it's open source.)