Back in front of first years again: Encouraging undergrads to consider CS

November 15, 2010 at 11:16 am 2 comments

Today, I got to lecture to first year students in CS1315, our Introduction to Media Computation course.  This was the first time since 2006 that I’ve been in that class.  I’m not teaching the class, unfortunately — I was encouraging those students to go beyond their requirements to take a second computer science course.  I’m going to be teaching CS1316, our Media Computation data structures class “Representing Structure and Behavior,” in the Spring (for the first time since 2007).  CS1315 is required for all Liberal Arts, Architecture, and Management students at Georgia Tech.  CS1316 meets some degree programs’ requirements for technical electives, but is mostly an elective course. So, my job this morning was to encourage a group of non-CS major undergrads to consider taking more computer science.

It was such fun!  I am so pumped-up afterward, in spite of the rainy Monday morning.  I told them that the course explained how the Wildebeests charged over the ridge in Disney’s “The Lion King,” and that the same techniques underly how video game characters are rendered and their behavior is realized.  I explained that the ideas of modeling and simulation that underly the course can be used to answer a wide variety of questions, from how do ants forage for food to what happens in human emigrations.

Though the first course is my favorite to teach (introducing novices to computing using Python is a blast), I will likely never teach it again, for a wide variety of reasons.  So, I’m looking forward to the opportunity to try out new approaches in the second course.  We are going to use Greenfoot to introduce simulations, which I’ve never used before with undergrads. I’m also installing Ubiquitous Presenter on the computer that I plan to use in-class.  Beth Simon has completely convinced me that I have to try Peer Instruction in my classes, so I want to use UP for that.  I’m also learning to build quizzes in Sakai, so that I can have students take quizzes on between-class reading and videos because I’m so impressed with the web lecture results of Jim Foley and Jason Day.

Probably the best part of this morning’s pitch were the questions afterward.

  • “Will this class help me in getting a minor in CS?”  YESSSSS!  We hooked one!
  • “Will there be a graduate section of this class?”  Wow! Here’s a student who is taking CS1315 as a graduate student (it is not required for any graduate programs) because she wants to learn more about CS, and now wants to be able to take the second class, too.

And this isn’t a class on “How to use a computer.” This is a class on data structures.  How boring and geeky can you get?  Yet, the students are seeing that it’s worthwhile, and some (a few — we typically get about 10% of CS1315 into CS1316) want to take it.  That’s what makes this job fun.


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