CS15 Lectures by Saul Nadler

CS15 lectures are an entity onto themselves. Besides providing the students with the pertinent information for the course, they consist of skits, drinks, and lecture slides. Although the majority of the time in lecture is spent on the topic at hand, it is my belief that the other 3 factors are why people come to lecture. Without deliberate entertainment, or the tangible answers that are provided by lecture slides (PizzaDex code for example), lecture is not the place where most of the learning goes on in CS15. The format of lecture in CS15 as it presently stands does not do the rest of the course justice. We have spoken about symptoms and diseases for problems in this course; lectures do provide a large amount of information, but this could be done in a more exciting and productive way that enables all aspects of CS15 to be respected, not just the programs that you have to complete.

Having Andy teach the course is a coup in itself. Albeit from a distance, figuratively and literally, Andy's stature is the glue that allows CS15 to challenge the students to the extent that it does. His abilities as an orator are incredible, and he provides a presence from the altar of the sunlab. However, the lecture format presently is not conducive to the way that many people learn computer science. It is rare that students enter a lecture, listen attentively, and leave with the feeling that they have gained a modicum of information from the lecture. Computer science is learned more by interaction and participation then reception to lecture; it is not a passive discipline.

Not having a textbook is a large part of this problem. Without some other resource that provides the basic information for the course, Andy is not allowed to investigate the nuances and interesting aspects of the material at hand. For example, in a History class, if students are supposed to read a chapter of a text for class, then the professor does not cover that material and is allowed to explore more interesting, less focal aspects of the course that are more concept based and demand the expertise of the instructor. As seen on the days of Andy's absence, Spike, Robert, and even Shoe can successfully step in and give a lecture on par with what Andy does. A university course should rely on both the material at hand and the knowledge of the instructor/staff to provide as interesting and challenging an experience for the enrolled students as possible. We in CS15 are incapable of doing that because there is no other source for the basic material of the course. I understand that there is a core set of knowledge that must be covered by the instructor within class, but at present, the class is hindered by its dependence on lecture for disseminating information.

I recommend radical changes to the lecture format in CS15. If we were able to finish the lecture slides before the class began in September, then we could provide a packet of lecture slides as the textbook. From there, the material of the course would be all in one place. Then, for a particular day, the students would be asked to read the slides and come with questions. Lecture could then be more hands on and interactive, instead of being the continuous diatribe that it presently is. Students would be able to look at the material ahead of time and try to conceptually grasp the topic of the day. Andy would then have less pressure to "cover" everything rather than go where the class leads. Instead of running out of time to answer questions (as one final questionnaire respondent bemoaned), Andy could interact with the students and take the class in the direction of their interests. This was my experience in cs16. A packet was provided at the beginning of the semester with all the lecture foils included. Then, we could move from topic to topic based on how quickly the class understood the material. A student from this year's questionnaire said - "give out lecture foils before the class so it is easier to follow what is going on in class" Another student remarked "I never really went to lecture after the first month because Andy talked over my head...I just printed the lecture foils off of the web" These two seemingly opposite remarks tell the same thing - that lectures do not give the students what they need. If there were a book or lecture foils, then the students of the class could move more at the pace suitable to them. It would also be an excellent reference because a TA could say, "that topic is covered on page x of the text or of the lecture packet." This would codify the class on a standard amount of material and let the students take it from there.

Furthermore, I believe that CS15 should have interactive labs or diagnostic arenas where students could learn syntax and concepts. Instead of making class two consecutive 80 minute lectures, I would like to see Andy or the TAs lead the students in interactive labs for one of the sessions instead of allowing them to sit passively, or more accurately, to not attend lecture. The articles for week 3 of the gisp were about standardizing cs education and all three of them mentioned the use of structured labs with instructors present to help solidify concepts and syntax. CS1 at many schools is a 4 credit class - 2 lab hours and 2 class or lecture hours. CS15 is a 3 hour a week class with no labs - this aberration from what is considered standard cs education is hard to believe. I understand that cs15 does do things differently than many other schools, however this seems to be not in the best interests of the students. Labs would be very helpful for the students because it is structured coding. It is very much like the thoughtful program assignment that we are going to do later in this semester.

These labs or sections would aid the class in many areas including lessening the dependence on ta hours because basic skills would be addressed. There is also test software being used in Math 8 that is encouraging group discussion and annotation of books. If applied to different test problems and lecture slides, students could not only help each other learn the concepts of the class, but also have an arena where any and all questions could be asked, without the wait or comfort of a ta on hours. For new students, this would allow them to have a place to ask questions in a much smaller environment, perhaps alleviating any confidence issues. This would also allow possibly tracked labs so that some students could do what was required of them and have the access to the tas and the equipment to do more interesting things. Interactivity appears to me to be the best way to customize the education of every single cs15 student.

There are logistical questions that would have to be addressed - I think that size could be an issue, but the man hours put into the class would placate the problem. There would be hardware issues such as time in the sunlab when other students could not use the Suns, but that could be ameliorated by having the first 2 rows reserved every night from 5 - 7 and having 5 days with 15 students per day having lab at that time. In class software would be another issue - how to make things more interactive with the lecturer? Presently, the use of televideoing to the Moonlab is used because we can't fit enough people in the sunlab - but what if we televideoed to different clusters on campus and were able to have students work from there either on a pc platform or through a remote login. A rotating schedule over who would be in the sunlab could assuage issues of people always being stuck on videoconferencing. Televideo, with present resources and technology, is not the answer. Maybe having lecture once a week in a large lecture hall like Salomon 001 or a room in Barus and Holley and then having 1 or two scheduled lab sections led by the teaching assistants per week could help the students. Perhaps hiring more tas would alleviate the onerous burden that presently exists for the tas. Overall, there are feasible solutions that would allow students to have a much more active role in their cs15 experience rather than sitting in the aisles of a well packed sunlab.

CS15 is supposedly on the "bleeding edge" of computer science education and technology. Unfortunately, not all aspects of the class fall into that category. The present lecture format is antiquated and does not allow the students to learn the given material in the class environment, nor does it allow for the varied experience levels present in 15. It confines the learning curve for some students in an artificial attempt to benefit everyone. The difficult learning curve of CS15 exists outside of the classroom because inside the sunlab, not enough guidance or attention is given. Andy always speaks about flattening the learning curve and allowing students to have as smooth a ride as possible, but presently, we do not give them the necessary support. The amount of man hours put into the class is more than sufficient, but the teaching hours put in need to be improved upon. Lecturing about the bleeding edge will no longer suffice - cs15 needs to join the world of interactivity to make its lectures reflect on the rest of the class.