C@CM course syllabus revised

Credit: Angel Gonzalez/Photo Staff Credit: Angel Gonzalez/Photo Staff Credit: Angel Gonzalez/Photo Staff Credit: Angel Gonzalez/Photo Staff

While many first-year students’ schedules contain the typical 8:30 a.m. classes and introductory level courses, members of the Class of 2014+ have schedules that boast of something unique this year to Carnegie Mellon. Whereas many upperclassmen likely recall attending Computing at Carnegie Mellon (C@CM) courses twice per week, this year, students enrolled in C@CM are no longer required to attend a C@CM class. Instead, the university-wide required course is now offered in a hybrid form online through the Open Learning Initiative (OLI). While C@CM grading scores were traditionally based on homework assignments, three in-class exams, and one group project, the new version of the course has only one graded element: the final exam, which will be administered and proctored by teaching assistants in the clusters.

In past years, student attendance in C@CM classes was mandatory. This meant that students from various backgrounds of computing experience received the same in-class instruction, regardless of whether they needed it or not. Computing at Carnegie Mellon Program Manager April Rupp expects the new course format to enable students to work independently at their own pace. In situations where students do desire additional help with the OLI course material, they can seek help during the daily support sessions led by teaching assistants in the C@CM cluster, located in Baker Hall 140D. Academic Development has partnered with the course teaching assistants to provide C@CM peer tutoring resources for the first time.

“We can now use the face-to-face time to tailor our instruction for students’ specific needs and address the high variability in students’ background knowledge, current skills and future goals. We’re no longer constrained by the 50-minute classroom session.” Rupp said.

The C@CM course curriculum has been approved by an advisory committee comprised of academic and administrative leaders. According to Rupp, this committee gathers input from faculty representing every major department in the university to ensure that “C@CM provides instruction on the requisite skills students need in order to be successful in their academic coursework.”

According to Rupp, several factors led to the recent restructuring. “One of the initial motivating factors that led us to a hybrid course model was our overuse of computer cluster resources. With more and more faculty members looking to integrate technology into their teaching, the demand for clusters has increased. C@CM has been one of the biggest consumers of the clusters for years. At the time of the H1N1 outbreak on campus last year, it became even more evident that we needed a model that relied less on face-to-face instruction,” Rupp said.

Michelle Lin and Youngeun Kim are both Carnegie Mellon seniors who have been teaching C@CM for three years. Kim, a materials science and biomedical engineering double major, commented on the change. “Some of my students like it. They like that they can pace themselves. A few students would rather take the course in a traditional environment,” she said. Lin, an electrical and computer engineering and biomedical engineering double major, said, “I do miss going into class and giving lectures.... That was one of the reasons I took the job. As for the changes, I feel that they are catered to the students’ needs and less to the instructors’ needs. Most of the support we now provide is online — which is convenient, but now we have been receiving a lot of frequent e-mails from students who have questions.”

Regarding her usual discourse with students, Kim shared her thoughts. “It depends on the questions they ask whether I respond with e-mail or instead decide to meet students in person during recitation…. I think it’s now better for the student in the sense that they can get feedback right away when they need our help. They get to save time, too. Rather than going into lecture and waiting for someone else to ask a question, it’s up to the student to figure out what he or she knows and needs more help with,” she said.
Both Lin and Kim agreed that teaching C@CM remotely this semester has changed their experiences as teaching assistants. “Personally, I like giving lectures and enjoyed the personal interaction that I had with students. This year it’s become less personal. I’m just here to help them get through the online course, but overall I do think that this new structure will help the students,” Kim said.

While enrolling in and completing C@CM is required for all Carnegie Mellon undergraduates, there is now an open version of the new OLI curriculum available to all students, faculty, and staff. This version may be accessed by visiting and entering the course key: ccmf10open.