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[Computational Complexity] The End of Summer Classes (Guest Post)

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  • GASARCH
    (Guest post by Sorelle Friedler. Companion post at her blog.) This summer I taught the 400-level Algorithms class at the University of Maryland. Two summers
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 2, 2009
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      (Guest post by Sorelle Friedler. Companion post at her blog.)

      This summer I taught the 400-level Algorithms class at the University of Maryland. Two summers ago I taught a 300-level programming languages class, and promised myself that I'd never teach another summer class. Apparently the lure of getting to teach Algorithms was just too much for me. I love teaching, and enjoyed teaching this summer, but summer classes are exhausting for students and teachers. I also believe that they're ill-advised for the students and think it's a problem that students are not warned against them. This, of course, is the true problem; I knew what I was getting into - they didn't.

      While summer classes have the same amount of in-class time as regular semester classes, the out of class time is significantly less (the regular semester class takes 15 weeks, while the summer version takes 6). This satisfies the accountants, but doesn't give the students enough time to actually absorb the material. In addition, as Bill notes in the dual to this post, the students who take summer classes do not represent the standard distribution of ability. Specifically, there are more weak students - the students who could most use the extra time. In Computer Science, especially in programming classes, having enough time is critical.

      And what about the strong students? They certainly still learned the material and did a great job on the homework. I decided to assign a somewhat open-ended programming project (a topic for a different post), and the strong students challenged themselves and did an amazing job. Yet with more time there would have been more opportunity for challenging problems and more advanced topics.

      I admit, of course, that having summer classes makes logistical sense. It's a good chance for students to get ahead or just manage to graduate on time. Despite the problems, students learn something, pass, and get to move on. But if the goal is a deep understanding of the material or even an understanding equivalent to that achieved in a regular semester course, the summer just isn't good enough.

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      Posted By GASARCH to Computational Complexity at 9/02/2009 12:12:00 PM
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