Enrollment in the introductory class Computer Science 50 jumped 56 percent from last year—from 337 students last fall to 525 this year. These enrollment numbers place CS50 as the fourth largest undergraduate class offered at the College.
Members of the CS50 staff attribute the sudden increase in enrollment to the scale of the annual CS50 student fair, during which students display their final projects from the class. They also point to the recent exposure of the class, such as through the Harvard Thinks Big event and the debate over the course staff’s attempts to offer it as SAT/UNSAT.
“Students talk about [CS50],” said course instructor David J. Malan ’99.
“Our last spring’s [SAT/UNSAT] endeavor did not end up changing the status quo but brought a very strong exposure to the class,” Malan added. “And at Harvard Thinks Big, we brought some great exposure to non-CS students about CS50.”
Course staff members say that those two examples are only a small part of Malan’s consistent, sweeping initiatives to make the course more visible on campus.
“Professor Malan has really helped to increase our presence on campus,” said Teaching Fellow Yuhki B. Yamashita ’11, an inactive Crimson editor. “And I think as a result of this increase, even more people will be interested in computer science and CS50.”
Between 2008 and 2009, the class only increased by what Yamashita called a “disappointing” seven students.
“So to see the course jump up so high in the number of students is kind of rewarding,” he said.
Some students currently enrolled in CS50 say that as a result of the way Malan markets the class, they have become more aware of the applicability of the class and of computer science as a discipline.
“You learn to solve problems more efficiently and effectively...it’s a marketable skill that a lot of Harvard students gravitate towards,” Daniel C. Norris ’12 said.
Although faced with an increase of nearly 200 students—evenly spread across the four undergraduate classes—Malan will not alter the lecturing dynamic of the class, according to CS50 teaching fellows.
“I don’t think that students will... get less out of lecture,” Yamashita said. “T-here might be more people, but it’s the same material.”
“A lecture is a lecture, whether there are 300 people or 500 people,” Norris said. “They might have to add more sections, but I think the experience will be the same.”
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