Visiting West Point to give the Castle Lecture
Barbara Ericson and I gave the Castle Lecture at West Point in April. The Castle Lecture is a big deal — we spoke before the entire first-year class at West Point. (Last year’s lecture was David Ferrucci, PI of the IBM Watson project.) We received this honor because West Point requires Computer Science of everyone, and this is the first year that they all the first years used our Media Computation Python textbook in that class. So, we got a chance to lecture to 1200 future Army officers and their instructors who all knew Media Computation. It was a stunning experience.
The whole day was amazing. If you’ve never been to West Point, I highly recommend that you take the opportunity. The campus is beautiful. The traditions and stories about the place are amazing. There’s such a sense of history, such a buzz about the place. We ate lunch with a group of cadets (in an absolutely enormous mess hall where thousands of students eat lunch in 20 minutes) and were deeply impressed. These are undergraduate students who are making a huge commitment to service to their country.
The biggest intellectual treat for me was learning more about their course, IT 105. 700 students every semester take the course — in groups of 20. 16 instructors are involved in teaching the course. We met with the instructors who teach just about nothing but IT 105, but also met some of the other West Point EECS instructors who teach a section or two of IT 105 along with their other courses. (Like Dr. Tanya Tolles Markow, a GT alumna, who teaches IT 105 and database classes.)
The person who makes this all work is Susan K. Schwartz (CAPT, USN, Ret). Her attention to detail is phenomenal. Susan is going to give me her errata for the third edition when she finishes this semester, which is more detailed than all the corrections that all instructors have sent me for both of the previous editions combined. Susan creates detailed lecture notes and assignments that drive all the sections for every day across the entire semester. All the students who take the course take the same exams, so Susan provides enough detail so that all the instructors know what to do in each class so that all students get to the finish line.
Barb and I each got to sit in one section. This is the opposite of a MOOC. The teacher knows every student. She (I attended one of Susan’s classes) calls on individual students, prods students to engage, and gives them activities in class. It’s small, interactive, and individualized. Yet, there are 700 students taking it at once. It’s an enormous effort to make that large of a class work such that students can all have that small class experience. We’re going to try to get Susan’s materials available to other Media Computation teachers.
The lecture was fun and exciting to do. We talked about how media was going to influence them for the rest of their lives. I gave a brief audio lecture, then we talked about computers that can process all that we can hear and see, and have the processing power of ten year’s forward. What does that mean for the rest of their lives? Barb gave a great overview of advances in robotics and cyber-security and even prosthetics. Afterward at the reception, we each had 9-12 cadets asking us follow-up questions for about an hour. We got back to the Thayer Hotel (what a place!) just buzzing from the amazing adventure of the day.