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
- View professionally-produced
- Perform exercises between the segments
interactive roundtable discussions with other students
This document explains the advantages, rationale, and
evolutionary history of this new
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
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.
- It is difficult to focus intently on anything for 1.5 hours.
- The time between learning concepts in lecture and using them in
studio can range from several hours to a day.
- The lecture sections are large and do not engender interactive
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
- 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 the student's
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:
- Students can watch the video clips at a time that is
convenient for them.
- If they prefer, students can work in small groups to watch the
clips and perform the exercises.
- The clips are intentionally brief, but students can review the material
- There is almost no lag between learning an idea and trying it out.
- Student progress through the lecture-free material is tracked and
reported back to students, so that they are less likely to fall behind
in the lecture-free material.
- The professor's time is spent working closely with students
individually and in small groups during the students'
studio and lab sessions.
If you have questions please contact the instructor
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.
the National Science Foundation (NSF)
funded our deparment's
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.
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 10:20:11 CDT 25 May 2018
by Ron K. Cytron