Letter to the Editor

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

This semester I had the choice between taking 15-102 or 15-110. I chose to take 15-110 because I had heard that “Kosbie is great” and “the course is great” — and, after all, Carnegie Mellon is ranked No. 1 in computer science.

More than halfway through the course, I believe it is one of the best I have taken. I was shocked when I read the overwhelmingly negative article published in last week’s edition of The Tartan. This is my response:

“Students who are determined to succeed in the course have been met with consistent obstacles.”

That’s life. People who are determined to succeed meet obstacles. The difference between success and failure is overcoming those obstacles. Everyone wants to succeed given the choice, but it’s impossible for everyone who wants success to achieve it. Imagine a production company with 500 CEOs and no front-line workers.

“No student currently enrolled in this course could say when the next homework assignment will be assigned or due.”

Sunday. It is always due Sunday. There was one exception when Kosbie’s Internet was down due to a thunderstorm. The homework was posted a day late, and students were given a two-day extension.

“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.”

Tuesday. It is almost always posted on Tuesday.

“Students are faced with the obstacle of obtaining help.”

Getting help can be somewhat challenging, but I have never had that problem at Carnegie Mellon or in 15-110. If I ever need help in programming, I go to Wean 5201 or one of the Gates clusters any day of the week. I do not keep track of when office hours are scheduled, but I always find two or three course assistants (CAs) in either building.

“Some professors have refused to post their CAs’ hours despite e-mails from students requesting them to do so.... The office hours schedule still has not been posted. This, too, is unacceptable.”

A complete list of office hours for each of the three professors is available straight off the course website.

“Office hours [are] consistently being canceled.”

Office hours are not “consistently” canceled. They are canceled in rare instances when a CA has a personal reason for missing them. I think the author may have been referring to a week when office hours were rescheduled due to extensions on the homework. In this case, the CAs rescheduled their office hours out of good will. If the homework is not due until Tuesday, office hours on Thursday are not much help.

“The course favors those who have some basic knowledge of programming.”
On this point, the author’s outrage is understandable. Imagine if all courses mimicked this style: those who have an understanding of Italian earning As in Italian, and those with less understanding earning lower grades. It is absolutely ridiculous.

“The average amount of time spent on this class exceeds the expected 10 hours.”

Professor Fossati polls the class through online logs to observe the time spent on homework. Interestingly enough, Fossati told students the average time spent on the last homework: fewer than seven hours. Adding in three hours of class per week, the total amount of time spent on this class is slightly less than 10 hours per week.

“The current homework system does not allow for student athletes who travel.”

The homework’s typical format is to explain or develop three to five programs. It does not require that the student be in Pittsburgh while doing so.

“Instructors’ office hours cannot meet the needs of students who have afternoon labs.”

In addition to CA office hours, instructors have office hours three times per week.

“Individual appointments can be few and far between.”

I cannot attend my instructor’s office hours next week. I e-mailed Professor Kosbie, and he made special arrangements to meet with me when I was available.

“Some e-mails slip through the large list.”

Whenever I e-mail the d-list provided by the instructors, the response time is almost always under an hour. Professor Fossati did warn students that if they e-mail only the instructor the day the homework is due, their e-mails may go unanswered.

“The computer science department asked Academic Development to not offer tutoring for the course.”

Kudos to the CS department. Academic Development tutoring can be very confusing in courses where the syllabus changes. Also, the author should note that Academic Development tutors are trained to not provide review of material. They are instructed to teach students how to study effectively.

“Some students are given an unfair advantage.”

All students have the same workload and the same resources to utilize. The author may be referring to the fact that some students are more intelligent than others. Well, this, also, is life. Admittedly, it may seem unfair that intelligent people stand a better chance of succeeding than others, but the CS department has no blame in that. Students attending Carnegie Mellon, a top-tier university, can expect intelligence to be important.

“I believe students are being put in an environment that doesn’t encourage success, but actively prevents it.”

I could not disagree with the author more. I believe she is defining success as an A in the course. It cannot be denied that all students in 15-110 drastically improve their programming capabilities and, most likely, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. I think Professors Fossati and Kosbie work extremely hard to ensure that each student benefits beyond the typical scope of the class. In fact, I have never met an instructor with a passion comparable to Professor Fossati’s.