CSE131 Lecture-Free Format

Because of its popularity, our introductory course has been reformulated into a format that we strongly believe is both better and more efficient for our students.

In lieu of lecture, students

This document explains the advantages, rationale, and evolutionary history of this new format.

The main advantage is that you can work through the exercises between short video clips at your own speed. That is not possible in lecture.

A sample of the syllabus for this new format can be found here.

Rethinking Lecture

While the introduction of studios has been an important step in reformulating this course, the 1.5 hours of traditional lecture are far from ideal: Meanwhile, the professors and TAs who staff this course find that their time is best spent in the smaller studio and lab sections interacting with students in much smaller groups.

In 2014, we had the opportunity to produce a version of this course that could be offered remotely. The 2u company was contracted to produce the materials, which consist of the following elements:

These are very short video clips that introduce or summarize concepts.
Narrated slides
The majority of material is delievered using slides with an audio narration. This is the same manner in which lecture would be delivered, but these clips are intentionally short and interspersed with exercises and roundtable elements, described below.
After a concept is presented, students are asked to apply the concept in a short exericse. An exercise is introduced with a short video clip. The student then accesses code in his or her repository, and submits the completed exercise. The student can then see other students' solutions to the exercise, and a video clip is provided to illustrate the professor's solution.
Each module features several sessions that were captured by sharing a screen between the professor and 2 other students as they sat at a round table and explored the material in greater depth. Each roundtable sessions consists of a series of clips. At the end of each clip, a question is posed to the viewer. The viewer can then consider the question in whatever time is needed, formulate an answer, and then see the roundtable students' answers in the subsequent clip.


In summer 2014, we offered this course to 15 students in the lecture-free format. Based on their feedback, and the experiences of the professor and TAs involved in that offering, we strongly feel that the lecture-free format represents an important step forward for this course:
If you have questions please contact the instructor Ron Cytron.

Background on our evolution from its traditional format

Our department's introductory course had long been taught in a traditional lecture format. Most years, 3 hours of lecture were offered, but we also tried a 4-unit version in which students attended 4 hours of lecture a week, and a 1-hour help session was offered on the non-lecture day of the week.

In 2007, the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded our deparment's CPATH proposal, with Ken Goldman as its principal investigator. One aspect of that grant's 5-year agenda was to introduce a specialized form of active learning into several of our courses, which we called studio sessions. We observed that our colleagues in similar disciplines (primiarily art and architecture) that involve design, constructive critique, and iterative development benefited from learning environments that fostered collaboration and exploratory skills.

Ken Goldman and Ron Cytron were responsible for deploying these concepts in our introductory course. At that time, the course attracted about 200 students a year.

Our work here consisted of moving half of what was taught in lecture to the studio format. As a result, lecture was reduced to 1.5 hours per week. The material not covered in lecture was instead taught in a studio session, also taking 1.5 hours per week. Each week also featured a 1.5 hour lab session in which students could work (alone or in small groups) on other problems assigned for the course.

These studio sessions have been very successful, and we have seen interest in this course grow from 200 students a year to nearly 800 students a year. While this increase in interest stems also from the importance ascribed to understanding some of computer science in the modern world, the reviews from our students have been overwhelmingly positive concerning studios, and students have rated this course one of the top 5 not-to-be-missed courses at Washington University.

Last modified 10:18:51 CDT 15 June 2015 by Ron K. Cytron