CS50’s First Semester Winds Down at Yale

UPDATED: December 19, 2015, at 11:14 p.m.

Samuel Cummings, a freshman at Yale, entered college knowing he wanted to learn more about computer science. One course, highly advertised on Yale’s campus at the beginning of the year, caught his attention, and he enrolled right away.

Cummings did not realize, however, how much time that course would take out of his schedule this fall, he said. “Its workload was definitely a lot and took a lot out of your week,” Cummings said. “I felt very accomplished at the end of the week.”

The course, CPSC 100a: “Introduction to Computing and Programming,” is an extension of Computer Science 50: “Introduction to Computer Science I,” the flagship introductory computer science course at Harvard that has become as much a campus cultural phenomenon as a class, inspiring parodies and mock protests. This semester marked the first time that Yalies could count themselves among the hundreds of students who enroll each fall.

CS50 Lecture
Professor David J. Malan lectures on the role of the binary number system in computer science at the first CS50 lecture of the school year in Sanders Theatre. This semester marked the first time that Yalies could count themselves among the hundreds of students who enrolled.

And last week, as the course finished its inaugural semester at Yale, it seemed that Cummings was not alone in his sentiment. At Harvard, CS50 is known for its heavy workload of problem sets and quizzes, but at Yale, that may have come as more of a surprise. The Yale Daily News reported that students in the class found the coursework more intense and time-consuming than they expected from an introductory-level class.

“I know a lot of people signed up thinking it was going to be an easy intro class; they weren’t expecting the workload and the difficulty,” Cummings said. “It’s an intro class, but it’s a difficult intro class.”

Still, the course’s staff members said they were pleased with the Yale students’ performance over the semester.

Jason C. Hirschhorn ’14-’15, a former CS50 teaching fellow at Harvard who now works full time on the CPSC 100a staff at Yale, wrote in an email that he thought the course had a “very successful conclusion” with Yale’s CS50 Fair on Monday.

In addition to the site-specific sections, office hours, lunches, project fairs, and lectures—delivered in Sanders Theatre and often live-streamed to New Haven—the course staff on both campuses looked to collaborate this semester.

According to David J. Malan, the course’s instructor and a computer science professor of the practice at Harvard, CS50 fairs and hackathons brought together students from the two campuses. Brian Scassellati, CPSC 100a’s head instructor, did not respond to a request for comment.

For his part, Malan wrote in an email that he hopes the courses set a “wonderful precedent” for cross-university dialogue.

Andi Peng, a Yale student who serves as CPSC 100a’s head teaching assistant, said she was “pleasantly surprised” that she got to know the Harvard teaching staff well. “We saw them at two or three events,” Peng said, adding, “I’ve been going down to Harvard for office hours. I think that was more interaction than I thought going in.”

CPSC 100a was the first Yale course for which undergraduates served as teaching fellows, according to the Yale Daily News.

Maia Eliscovich Sigal, a Yale senior who studies economics, did not have experience with programming prior to enrolling in CPSC 100a this fall, and she said she enjoyed choosing how to learn the course material, whether through watching videos, stopping by office hours, or attending course lectures.

“The resources were out there, and I needed to find out what worked for me,” EliscovichSigal said.

—Staff writer Melissa C. Rodman can be reached at melissa.rodman@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @melissa_rodman.

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