CS course changes require refinement

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

The computer science department recently changed the curriculum of 15-110, Introduction to Programming, now Principles of Computing, in an attempt to provide a more comprehensive course. Although a lot of work was put into updating the curriculum in hopes of a smooth transition from the programming language Java to Python, the change has not been easy for the faculty, the course assistants (CAs), and, most importantly, the students across the 14 different course sections.

Students who are determined to succeed in the course have been met with consistent obstacles. Issues identified as early as the first day of class still have not been rectified, now more than halfway through the semester.

While most computer science courses have semester-long assignment schedules posted before the course even starts, no student currently enrolled in this course could say when the next homework assignment will be assigned or due. Often the homework assignments are posted at random times that are not indicated in class because the professors themselves do not know when the homework will be ready to post. This is a major problem. If the people running the course are not on top of their game, how can they expect their students to be?

Once assignments are posted, students are then faced with the obstacle of obtaining help. Although the CAs’ and professors’ office hours were originally posted, since the initial homework deadline schedule was deviated from just a few weeks in — leading to a change in CA office hours — some professors have refused to post their CAs’ hours despite e-mails from students requesting them to do so. Even after the dean of undergraduate studies for the computer science department was consulted in the matter, the office hours schedule still has not been posted. This, too, is unacceptable.

With some CA office hours posted and others not, I don’t believe students are all on equal footing. Office hours must be posted for all CAs, and held as scheduled so students know when and how to get help. However, with office hours consistently being canceled, and without everyone enrolled in the entire class being notified, I believe students are being put in an environment that doesn’t encourage success, but actively prevents it.

Sadly, the issue of office hours is just the tip of the iceberg. I could also talk about how the course favors those who have some basic knowledge of programming; or how the average amount of time spent on this class exceeds the expected 10 hours (it is a 10-unit course); or how the current homework system does not allow for student athletes who travel; or how students who desire to fulfill religious obligations find it difficult to succeed; or how instructors’ office hours cannot meet the needs of students who have afternoon labs; or how individual appointments can be few and far between due to the overwhelming request for help; or how some e-mails slip through the large list; or how the homework assignments need constant corrections; or how the computer science department asked Academic Development to not offer tutoring for the course, taking away a valuable resource (though they are now reconsidering this policy); etc, etc, etc. I realize that the professors in computer science are human and are not perfect. But, when some students are given an unfair advantage, that is where I draw the line.

Although I do appreciate the fact that the professors and dean have admitted to their mistakes, and accept that this semester is likely the worst in a time of transition, they have not been able to, and will not be able to, take all the appropriate steps to correct them in order to help the current class. As a result, the computer science department needs to figure out a way to combat this disparity between the current class of students and the ones before and afterward.

Also, to my fellow students: We are paying them to teach us! If we don’t like something about the course, if we need extra help, if we believe that this situation is unfair, we need to stop complaining to each other and start talking to the people in charge. If Carnegie Mellon has the No. 1-ranked computer science program, it is time that the faculty and staff of the department start acting in a way that deserves such an honor by addressing the needs of all the students in all of their classes.