Updated: Wednesday, Oct. 8 at 6:30 p.m.
Harvard University’s Computer Science department may soon be hacking into Yale.
Computer Science 50, commonly referred to as CS50 — Harvard’s introductory computer science course and one of the largest classes in the college — could become available to Yale students beginning in fall 2015, Yale Computer Science Department Chair Joan Feigenbaum confirmed to the News Wednesday. The department is currently considering a proposal from Harvard CS50 instructor David Malan to create a joint program combining online instruction — in which video modules of the course would be live streamed into Yale lecture halls — and traditional classroom instruction.
Computer science majors at Yale expressed mixed feelings about the prospect of the curricular addition. While some were excited about the idea, most students interviewed expressed hesitation about the direction in which a partnership with Harvard may take the department.
Additional steps remain before CS50 can find its place in Yale’s course listing. In particular, the course would need approval from the computer science department, the Yale College faculty and Yale’s Course of Study Committee — the standing committee in charge of approving and rejecting additions to the curriculum.
Of seven Yale computer science students interviewed, five were previously familiar with CS50, and most had mixed views on the extension prospect.
“Our department has a long standing aversion to that kind of curriculum,” Tim Follo ’16 said. “[It’s] surprising that Yale would be piggybacking so close off of [CS50] rather than developing its own curriculum.”
But Zachary Blickensderfer ’16, a computer science major, disagreed with the characterization that Yale’s department does not sufficiently emphasize real world skills, adding that he feels prepared in the fundamentals of computer science as he begins to look for computer science-oriented internships this summer.
Feigenbaum also disagreed with Follo. Yale does have a stable pre-existing program, she said, but this course offering would be a nice solution to the recurring criticism the computer science department has received for not having a course like CS50.
“The joint course with Harvard that’s currently under consideration may be a good way to meet that demand without devoting scarce faculty resources to reinvention of the CS50 wheel” Feigenbaum said.
Most students who register for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) never complete them, she added, noting that most people think students need in-person teaching to stay motivated. If Yale begins offering its own version of CS50, it would be ripe experimental material for that hypothesis, she said.
The class coming to fruition might also mean an end-of-semester Hackathon competition between the two schools.
“Call it a Harvard-Yale game of CS,” Feigenbaum said.
In contrast to the students Feigenbaum mentioned, who have criticized Yale’s department for not having practical skills course, computer science major Alex Reinking ’16 said he objected to CS50’s characterization as a computer science course.
Though he thought that students could benefit from learning how to write Android and iPhone applications, he said the class, if brought to Yale, should not count towards the major.
“A class like that is really just programming,” Reinking said. “I don’t want to have that thing be misconstrued as computer science proper.”
But the strongest objection among Yale students was not about curriculum, but rather the remote nature of the course — Malan’s lectures would be streamed from Cambridge, and Yale teaching fellows would conduct in-person sections.
The course will not be taught by Yale faculty, and its potential addition to the computer science curriculum is an “easy way to appease students who just want to take CS50,” Reinking said. He added that if the course is based on video modules, it will be an unnecessary addition to the computer science curriculum.
But Harvard students interviewed disagreed that an in-person lecture format is a necessary part of the CS50 experience.
According to Harvard senior Jacob Drucker, who previously took the course, most students do not even attend lecture, but instead watch the lecture at home at twice the speed.
“So the fact that you guys aren’t physically sitting in on the class doesn’t really change the experience that much,” he said.
While most Harvard students commended the course, others said Yale should not buy into the hype.
Harvard junior Ellen Robo, who took CS50 her freshman fall, said the course has two major failings — the information taught in lectures has little to do with the content of problem sets, and there is a significant divide in computer science experience among students.
Ultimately, if the class comes to Yale, its success will be dependent on how well the Yale administration can integrate the course into its pre-existing curriculum, Robo said.
CS50 has an online store where students can buy blankets, performance wear, backpacks and umbrellas — all emblazoned with the class logo.