How Harvard Teaches CS Students How To Code
Posted by EditorDavid on 24th December 2017
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Harvard computer science professor David J. Malan “is pretty amazing!” says long-time education-watcher theodp. And he’s sharing a link to the online version of Malan’s famous CS50 class, “if you can’t pony up the estimated $63,025-a-year sticker price to take ‘the quintessential Harvard (and Yale!) course’ on campus.” KQED’s education site “MindShift” reports:
Malan’s class attracts students who have never taken computer science before, as well as kids who have been coding a long time. His goal with this diverse group of learners is to create a community that’s equal and collaborative. One way he does this is by asking students to self-identify by comfort level. Those groups become different section levels, and they sometimes get different homework, but harder assignments are not worth more credit. Malan said recently that the “less comfortable” group has dominated his 700-person course. “At the end of the day all students are treated with the same expectations,” said Malan, speaking at the Building Learning Communities conference in Boston.
Students are graded based on each individual’s growth; Malan and his team of teaching assistants don’t use absolute measures when assigning grades. Instead, they look at scope, how hard the student tried, correctness, how right the work was, style, how aesthetic the code is, and design, which is the most subjective. When it’s time to assign grades, Malan and his teaching fellows have lots of in-depth conversations about how each student has improved relative to where he or she started…

The course includes a tool that rewrites error messages to make them easier to understand, plus a code-checking tool which they’re planning to open source. There’s also a cloud-based IDE which “allows students to access their code from multiple locations,” though students can also submit their code through GitHub. (The original submission complains that Harvard’s students are “coddled.”) But Malan says the class works partly because there’s an intentionally social aspect to it — including numerous teaching assistants holding office hours in public spaces and “the human structure within the course.” Guest lecturers have even included Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Ballmer.

But all these technical details don’t really capture the wild flavor of the course and all of its multimedia bells and whistles.
Malan’s fast-paced lectures often close with relevant clips from movies — for example, a lecture on cryptography which ended with video from a movie you’d see “if you turn on your TV on December 24th.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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