Harvard student newspaper calls for University to curtail CS50
At first blush, the Harvard Crimson‘s call seems a stark contrast to the Berkeley student’s call for more access to CS (see previous post here). I hear both student articles asking for the same thing — computing as a literacy to which everyone gets access.
CS50 is a phenomenon. Set aside the “CS50 paraphernalia” described below. CS50 has pizza parties and all night hackathons, sponsored by Facebook. Events are held at the Microsoft New England Research and Development Center. It’s probably the richest and most privileged CS class in the world. If you got into Harvard, and were excited to learn to code, CS50 is absolutely the class you want to be in — and you’re going to get an experience that matches your expectations.
Check out the syllabus for CS50 (linked here). This is a hard-core, intense computer science class for computer science students. It runs on the CS50 appliance in Ubuntu Linux. The course covers C, PHP, and SQL.
When I visited Harvard’s Graduate School of Education last year, I met students who really wanted to learn computer science. They wanted to learn CS in order to teach it. They wanted to learn about Scratch and Blockly, Greenfoot and BlueJ, Media Computation and CS Principles. That’s not the goal of CS50, but the CS50 size and culture sucks all the air out of the room. There’s not going to be another introductory CS course taught when Harvard has CS50 on its hands and in its checkbook.
The Harvard Crimson is saying that they want classes, liberal arts style classes, not phenomena. If it was just a normal class, maybe you could offer more than one of them? Maybe some aimed at other kinds of introductory CS needs?
Outside of the classroom, however, CS50 is anything but the liberal arts course its creators proclaim. Its unprecedented corporate sponsorship ensures that the course has an unmatched visibility on campus.No other course gives away and sells merchandise en masse to its students and fan base. T-shirts, umbrellas, aprons, stress balls, M&Ms, and other CS50 paraphernalia are ubiquitous on Harvard’s campus. No other course makes the first five weeks—that is, the add-drop period—significantly easier than the proceeding eight weeks of the semester, luring less confident students until it’s too late to turn back. In no other course on Harvard’s campus are students allowed to simultaneously register for conflicting courses, even if they too are filmed. No other course has disciplinary procedures that bypass the Ad Board. No other course has seen reports that TFs are instructed to decline to give comment on the course to The Crimson before conferring first with the professor.