CS 161 Consumes Students' Free Time

Hank S. Chien '96 has spent more than 50 hours this week on a Computer Science assignment--and he's only halfway done.

Chien is one of many students in Computer Science 161: Operational Systems, who say the class' first project has taken up an exorbitant amount of time.

The heavy workload even prompted one student to send an E-mail message over the class' newsgroup to the instructor, Assistant Professor Margo I. Seltzer `83.

"I think it is ridiculous. I've been sacrificing time, needs and personal hygiene for this project," Chien said.

The project titled "System Calls," requires students to write a program which taken files in the computer's operational system.


Oren S. Weinrib '96, who could not be reached for comment, stated in his Tuesday E-mail message to Seltzer that the "integrity of [his] college education" is being compromised because he has no free time for other academic or extracurricular activities.

"Your objectives appear to be to inundate us with coursework for your course and consequently to aggravate students and spark feelings of resent- ment towards both you and the CS department,"wrote Weinrib.

But Seltzer told The Crimson that studentsshould not be spending so much time on theassignment and defended its difficulty.

"If students are spending 50 hours, there aremany factors at work--the difficulty of theassignment is just one of them," she said.

"The first group assignment covering the entiresystem is always going to be the toughest for somegroups," Seltzer said. "Perceptions will change asthe semester progresses."

Seltzer added that of students continue toencounter difficulties with the problem sets, theyshould contact her or one of the class' teachingfellows.

However, many students found little comfort inSeltzer's works, saying their lives have alreadybeen greatly affected by her first assignment.

"My sleeping and eating habits have beenwrecked, by girlfriend never gets to see me...andI'm becoming a nervous wreck," wrote Stacy A.Freidman '96 in another letter on the network.

Chien said the main problem is that Seltzer'shandouts are too vague and "do not provide enoughdirection."

"She could give us more information withoutjeopardizing the assignment's educational value,"he said.

Chien also said the project handout thatSeltzer distributed in class was not helpful. "Itwas bugged," he said. "It took three days for [theTF's] to fix all the mistakes in it."

While almost all the students interviewed saidthe class workload is too demanding, a student whotook the class last year said the class isrewarding overall.

"The class is different from most CS classesbecause it's group oriented," Jeff C. Tarr '96said.

"But in the real world, campanies expect you towork in groups to solve problems," he added