Malan Says CS50 To Keep Letter Grades

Sat/unsat grading plans rescinded due to raised concerns

Less than two weeks after announcing to the Computer Science 50 course staff that the class would be offered satisfactory/unsatisfactory next fall, course instructor David J. Malan ’99 wrote in an e-mail to teaching fellows and course assistants Saturday night that “sufficiently many concerns have arisen” such that “SAT/UNSAT will not happen this fall after all.”

In an e-mailed statement to The Crimson, Malan also wrote that there are no longer plans to implement sat/unsat for CS50 at any point in the immediate future, meaning students will only be able to take the course graded or pass/fail.

Within a few days of Malan’s April 15 announcement of a new grading plan, faculty within the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences voiced worries about whether changing the CS50 grading scheme would complicate students’ abilities to take the class for credit.

While Malan’s preliminary sat/unsat plan would still have allowed students to take the course for a grade in order to satisfy concentration or General Education requirements—or if they simply wanted to receive a letter grade—SEAS Dean Cherry A. Murray said that any final decision on the grading structure would have required a faculty vote in May.

“We don’t have enough time for an adequate discussion,” Murray wrote in an e-mail, adding that even a vote in May would be “too late for the handbook for Fall.”

In his e-mail to The Crimson, Malan said that his future plans for CS50 would revolve not so much around changing the course grading scheme as changing student attitudes toward the introductory coding class.

Malan wrote that he wanted to strive for the “creation of an atmosphere in which students feel empowered to explore a world unfamiliar to them without fear of ‘failure,’ without fear of competition from those already ‘more comfortable’ than they, and without fear of dark marks on their transcripts.”

A. Cansu Aydede ’11, the Head TF for CS50, wrote in an e-mail that while she would have liked to see the class be offered sat/unsat in her final term as TF, she hopes that the discussion “will continue in the future.”

Students had mixed feelings about the decision to retain the current CS50 grading scheme.

Kartikeya Mital ’13 said that while he had planned to take CS50 regardless of whether it would be offered sat/unsat, he was glad to know that taking the class for a grade will remain the norm in the fall.

“If I were to take CS50 sat/unsat... I wouldn’t really get much out of it,” he said.

But Rishabh K. Sinha ’12 said that while he had been strongly considering CS50 when he heard about the grading change, he does not believe he has a strong enough technical background to take the class for a grade.

“I would like to get some relevant CS background at some point during my college experience,” Sinha said. “When CS50 was being offered sat/unsat, that was the most attractive class to take.”

—Staff writer Gautam S. Kumar can be reached at gkumar@college.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Evan T.R. Rosenman can be reached at erosenm@fas.harvard.edu.

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