2 Higher Education Readings

Fenster writes.

CS50x is not the new Acura model.  It is Harvard’s Introduction to Computer Science course, the one it offered free as part of its EdX initiative.

CS50x is Harvard College’s introduction to the intellectual enterprises of computer science and the art of programming for majors and non-majors alike, with or without prior programming experience. An entry-level course taught by David J. Malan, CS50x teaches students how to think algorithmically and solve problems efficiently. . . .


None. CS50x is designed for students with or without prior programming experience.

How cool is that?  Harvard for free.

Lots of people agreed.  According to Professor Malan’s blog write-up, over 150,000 students registered for the course, which ran from October to April.

How many completed and got the certificate to prove it?  1,388.  That’s less than 1%.  .9232% if you want to be precise about it, and precision may be called for here.

I heard this statistic first from a guy who took the course and passed.  He has his doctorate in computer science already and said the course was plenty hard, and he didn’t get the part about no prior experience necessary.  His view was that it was almost too hard and the low completion rate a minor scandal.

So what to make of this?

I think the low percentage by no means diminishes the importance of this maiden effort.  For one, as Dr. Malan’s analysis makes clear, a lot of people registered, probably out of curiosity, and never started the work.  Of the people who started, many intended to see what they might learn and never intended to stay through the certificate.  When you adjust for all these factors the completion rate looks better.

And then just consider the raw number.  That’s one thousand three hundred eighty eight people who took a very hard course and completed it, with certificate.  That’s one thousand three hundred eighty eight people who probably would not have learned a ton about computer programming in the absence of this free course.  That’s almost the size of Harvard’s freshman class.  For a first effort, I think that’s pretty impressive.

My second reading?  Have you followed the dust-up over Bowdoin?  This is the one about the college president who drew first blood by criticizing comments made by a golf partner that were critical of Bowdoin’s diversity efforts.  That was met by a long rebuttal by the person on the golf course who made the remarks.  Since this guy also happens to be rich, he funded a study by the National Association of Scholars, a right-leaning education group.  That group’s report sided with the rich golfing guy, and was highly critical of Bowdoin’s current state for being PC and flabby.  That led to a rebuttal by Bowdoin’s President and lots of press coverage, which I will not link to.

Much of what has been written is impassioned, angry even.  Enough to make you think somebody is hitting close to the bone, and you get to decide who.

You can follow all the links if you want.  But if you want to read just one thing about the issue, I suggest this.  It’s a brief article by Harvard’s Harvey Mansfield.  He’s Harvard’s conservative curmudgeon (well, he is not supposed to be a curmudgeon in real life, but you have to play one if you are a conservative on the Harvard faculty).

Mansfield’s piece is worth reading even if you take Bowdoin’s side in the kerfuffle.  Why?  It is elegantly written, wonderfully argued and just a joy to read.

Teachers of all political persuasions will tell you–most minding their PC manners, mind you–how far writing and reasoning skills have fallen. Mansfield’s piece all but makes the conservative argument about declining standards simply by virtue of how well his argument is mounted and argued.  It’s very old school, alas.

About Fenster

Gainfully employed for thirty years, including as one of those high paid college administrators faculty complain about. Earned Ph.D. late in life and converted to the faculty side. Those damn administrators are ruining everything.
This entry was posted in Education, Technology and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to 2 Higher Education Readings

  1. chucho says:

    Unlike the humanities, if you can’t do the work in CS 101, you will be unprepared for any and all future coursework. Thus, a proper CS 101 course should be relatively difficult in order to weed out those who would otherwise be wasting their time by failing upwards.

    That said, 1% is pretty brutal. CS isn’t the Navy Seals.


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