C@CM changes adapt to students needs, schedules

Returning students to Carnegie Mellon are always met with changes. Some of these are immediately noticeable, like renovated housing or a new building on campus. Others seem more minor, but they nevertheless improve students’ experiences at the university.

Most upperclass students will remember taking the pass/fail Computing at Carnegie Mellon (C@CM) — or, in its previous iteration, the Computing Skills Workshop — course in their first year. They likely remember being forced to sit through hours of learning how to use Andrew Calendar, Dreamweaver, and Andrew UNIX. The Class of 2014, however, will have no such memories. They are the first group to take the new online version of C@CM. This jump to an online course is an excellent step forward for Carnegie Mellon’s introductory curriculum.

The most significant change in C@CM is moving from the traditional eight-week mini format meeting three times a week to an online course with an optional classroom component. This allows students to move through the course at their own pace without being shackled to a strict syllabus. As many of the C@CM activities could be completed in 15 of the 50 minutes allotted on a given day, first-years can now spend their time more productively.

For students who learned Microsoft Word and Excel when they were 12 years old, this means they will not need to spend hours on them in class. In the old format, the best part of C@CM was the extra three hours per week that appeared when it was over halfway through the semester. Now, we hope, students will be able to work at their own pace, spending more time on the parts of the course that actually apply to them rather than sitting through days on end learning how to use Dreamweaver.

While the transition of C@CM from a classroom to an online environment seems like a minor change in the overall context of Carnegie Mellon, we hope that it represents the university’s consideration for students’ priorities.

It challenges the assumption that just because a course has always been taught a certain way, it cannot be changed. We look forward to a greater variety of course formats in the future so that students can get the most out of their time at Carnegie Mellon.