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CS50 Looks Ahead to Second Year at Yale

By Marella A. Gayla, Crimson Staff Writer

After an inaugural year that featured impressive enrollment numbers and an unprecedented undergraduate teaching program, the staff of CS50, Harvard’s flagship introductory computer science course, is gearing up for its second year at Yale.

CS50, which has consistently been one of Harvard’s largest courses since David J. Malan began teaching it in 2007, made its debut on the New Haven campus in the fall of 2015. With an enrollment of 510 students, it was the most popular course at Yale that semester. Malan made occasional appearances at Yale, but most lectures were broadcasted from Sanders Theater at Harvard.

“It sounded a little weird, but I was open to it,” said Antonio Medina, a Yale freshman who took the course. “I thought it would be weird to not have a live professor, but they gave so many resources that it didn’t matter.”

Like their counterparts in Cambridge, Yale students could attend office hours with the CS50 teaching staff for help with weekly problem sets. Although CS50 has a reputation for its rigor and difficulty at Harvard, instructors and students alike said the workload was unexpectedly challenging for many at Yale.

“The biggest challenge was communicating what the course is all about—that we try to facilitate a community, that it's time consuming, that it's rigorous, and that it can be extremely rewarding,” Jason C. Hirschhorn ’14-’15, a former Harvard teaching fellow who now heads the course at Yale, wrote in an e-mail to the Crimson.

Yale computer science professor Brian Scassellati led CS50’s teaching staff, which included graduate students and, for the first time on Yale’s campus, undergraduate course assistants. The undergraduate learning assistants, or ULAs, were trained during the spring before CS50’s fall kick-off. Although unique, the undergraduate teaching program received positive feedback from students.

“It made it a lot more comfortable to go ask for help, they were very accessible,” Medina said. “I had a senior as my TA, so he was older but I still felt like he was a classmate that I could talk to.”

CS50’s student teaching staff has expanded by about 10 percent in preparation for next fall, according to the Yale Daily News. While the 55 new student hires undergo spring training, another staff member is preparing for his new role: Patrick Rebeschini, a postdoctoral fellow at Yale, will be replacing Scassellati as the course instructor.

Rebeschini wrote in an e-mail to the Crimson that he does not “foresee any major changes” to CS50’s curriculum next year, although the teaching staff hopes to improve scheduling and communication with students.

“Some students were surprised by the course's workload. But now that there is some institutional memory, students should be able to plan schedules all the more effectively,” Rebeschini wrote. “We are considering adding letter grades projections, on top of the weekly scores that students already receive, so that students can better monitor their progress and their expected final grade.”

Additionally, Rebeschini said the staff hopes to expand support for students next fall, especially those who are less comfortable with the material, by improving the course’s office hours.

—Crimson staff writer Marella A. Gayla can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @MarellaGayla.

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