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Institutional Background

I'm currently taking a programming course as part of my computer science studies at a rather small German university.

The course is done by the professor, who's holding the lecture, and three assistants who do the lab with us, prepare / correct the assignments and update and maintain the sample code base / documentation.

Actual question background

Now I've liked the assignments a lot and even posted them on CodeGolf.SE (after the assignments expired) after having obtained permission from my professor. They have done quite well over there (usually a lot of answers, upvotes and views). To be clear: The assignments were not "good" in the sense that they were trivial or easy, they just required an appropriate understanding of the materials and were quite enjoyable to do.

Because I and apparently others have enjoyed these assignments, or the ideas behind them, so much, I'd link to thank the author of the assignments in a nice email with links to the relevant CodeGolf posts.

As an inexperienced student I don't know whether it would be awkward for him to get such a "thanks" for "just getting his job done".

Is it generally considered appropriate / acceptable to thank members of the team besides the primary instructor for a good and enjoyable course experience, like good assignments)?

As for the relation between the assignment author and me: We had near to no interaction except him pushing the new assignments into everybody's SVN folders and then correcting all solutions, usually without many comments, after the students have pushed them back into the repository.

To distinguish this question from "Is it appropriate to send an email to a professor at the end of the semester thanking them for their teaching?": To my knowledge, the assignment author has no authority whatsoever about my grade and I already have my qualification for the exam and I've never met / seen him in person.

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    "Is it well received to thank [helpful person/people] for [helpful action]?" I can't think of many examples where the answer is "No". How and when to do so might take a little more consideration. – user2390246 Jul 8 '16 at 10:42
  • It would be even more beneficial to the assistants if you have the opportunity to formally evaluate them, and praise them with your comments. – Matthew Leingang Jul 8 '16 at 13:59
  • @MatthewLeingang we had this this semester for this course and I already dropped a nice comment about the assignments in there. – SEJPM Jul 8 '16 at 14:02
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    You can't thank people too much. You can't even thank them enough. General life truism that exactly applies here. – user18072 Jul 8 '16 at 14:45
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Yes, I think it would be fine. Everybody likes to know their work is appreciated. Teaching assistants are often not appreciated enough by their students (and sometimes not enough by their professors!).

Just a short concise form of thanks would be enough:

Thanks for those exercises you set for course xyz. They were really interesting, and I enjoyed solving them. I hope you liked creating them as much as I appreciated their contents.

Something along those lines perhaps. If you make it too long it might sound obsequious or sycophantic.

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    "Teaching assistants are often not appreciated enough by their students (and sometimes not enough by their professors!)" This alone is reason enough to offer a kind thank-you. It doesn't cost much to offer sincere thanks, but it can mean the world on the receiving end. – Jonathan Landrum Jul 7 '16 at 22:03
  • +1 and emphasis on the length; if I got a short email like this from a student, I would really appreciate it, as I do put some effort into the assignments. If it was longer, I would assume an ulterior motive, and be irritated (even if they didn't ask for anything at the time). – Richard Rast Jul 8 '16 at 15:58
  • You might even add a "working on them helped me..." Just be sure everything is truly sincere. – Jeffiekins Jul 8 '16 at 16:45
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In Germany

From my point of view, being a German computer scientist, I would also deem it appropriate to thank the team. From my point of view it is perfectly fine.

In General

Most certainly it would leave me smiling for the rest of the day. Everybody likes to hear that he/ she did well, as Brian already wrote.

Feedback

To give another angle why this is ok: Let's think about Feedback.

When designing courses and assignments, feedback from the students can be extremely helpful. It is not easy to judge how an assignment is received and nobody learns from assignments that are way too hard or way too easy. So if you tell them the assignments worked well you are providing important information to further improve the class.

In my experience, negative feedback is more readily given than positive. On the other hand, it is often not useful hearing that the course was too hard, from someone who skipped half of the sessions.

That said, I think your point of view matters here and can help shaping the next iteration of the course. Share it.

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    Having run the gamut of responsibility in my numerous TA assignments in graduate school -- all the way from glorified grader to total responsibility for the course, I absolutely endorse this answer. It's very easy to come up with assignments and tests that are too easy, too difficult, too unfair, or otherwise unworthy of appreciation. Crafting assignments and tests that are engaging and appropriately challenging is far more difficult than it appears. Feedback in any form is useful. Positive feedback would send me over the moon. – Tristan Jul 8 '16 at 14:46
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    +1; as a teacher you rarely hear about things that went well, so it can be tough to make sure you're not losing anything important when you change from year to year. Specific positive feedback is greatly appreciated and useful. – Richard Rast Jul 8 '16 at 15:59
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My opinion is that if you feel thankful toward someone for something, just express it. Sometimes it might seem awkward, but so what? The thanks can be very simple, or more elaborate, depending on the size of the act, among other things. Don't overthink it.

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Of course! No one dislikes having their hard work acknowledged and appreciated. This is even more true in academia, where the feedback loop is incredibly long and the feedback is mostly negative. At the very worst, a few people might demur and say, "Just doing my job." or something, but I suspect most of those people are still secretly pleased and I would be shocked if any were actually offended.

You can even do this in a way that helps the assistant.

Provide concrete examples of what you liked. For example: "I really appreciate the detailed comments I received on my assignments. My internship supervisor keeps commenting on how much my code has improved recently, so thank you for all the advice." or "Balanced binary trees finally clicked for me after we made that silly model from straws and sellotape during a tutorial." This may help the professor and/or assistants improve their teaching in the future.

Get your feedback "on the record." A personalized note or email would definitely brighten my day, so by all means, send one. However, if there is an official course evaluation, please fill that out too. Scores on those may be used to determine future teaching assignments, internal awards, etc. and they may also make the professor aware of the assistants' good work. This can be very helpful if the professor is ever in a position to recommend the assistant for a teaching position somewhere. In fact, it would not be totally out of line to mention this to the professor, if the occasion arises, or cc them on an email.

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YOU DID WHAT?!?!?

In general, thanking people is perfectly appropriate.

I've liked the assignments ... and even posted them on Programming Puzzles and Cold Golf (CodeGolf.SE) (after the assignments expired) after having obtained permission from my professor.

Basically, what this indicates is that the instructor doesn't object. The instructor's job, of course, is to run the course.

I'd link to thank the author of the assignments in a nice email with links to the relevant CodeGolf posts.

If I made the puzzles, I might appreciate knowing that my work has been shared with many people in the world, and that it was well-received.

However, there is another possibility. Hypothetically, if I was a TA, I may have thought long and hard about this, and finally come up with a great puzzle that will challenge students. I submit my code to the professor, and he agrees to use it for this class. I think about how my contribution has benefited this department now, and how this benefit can happen for years to come thanks to the possibility of re-using material.

Then, the professor okayed a student's request to post this onto CodeGolf. The professor has probably heard of Stack Overflow and might have some vague idea that Stack Exchange is somehow somewhat related, but may not be familiar with just how popular Code Golf is. (I know, this hypothetical scenario is getting painted by making quite a lot of assumptions here. What is being said here might closely match reality, or may differ significantly.)

As a TA who may be more familiar with Code Golf (especially after you show the hyperlink), I might be a bit disappointed that the professor ruined the ability to re-use the work in an academic setting. Another possibility is that you may have taken my chance for fame. After all, if I really thought that posting the puzzle was a good idea, I may have done so myself (and received whatever resulting reputation benefits I could). Now, you've kinda ruined the author's ability to do that.

Overall, this might be bad news that might disappoint some people more than what it enhances their life. The professor probably won't be disappointed at all, since the professor did give the okay for this. The TA's may have a different perspective.

In summary: I say again, thanking them would be perfectly appropriate. Letting the person know that you've used the code in such a public way (and even providing the hyperlinks) might work out quite well as this may cause the authors to appreciate your actions and their results, but there's also the possibility that they might not like that. I simply advise you to be prepared for that possibility before you do that.

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