Yale is one step closer to joining forces with Harvard — at least in computer science.
Yale computer science professor Brian Scassellati has agreed to be the instructor for the potential joint Harvard-Yale CS50 course, Yale computer science department chair Joan Feigenbaum told the News yesterday evening. On Oct. 16, the experimental course, which would consist of online lectures from Harvard but would still have its students meet in a class taught by a Yale professor, was approved by the Course of Study Committee for a three-year trial period. But Feigenbaum noted that the proposal for the class still requires approval by the Harvard administration and will also be put up to a vote during the Yale College Faculty meeting this Thursday.
“We are all going into this [joint CS50] experiment with high hopes and high expectations, and we may find that there are problems along the way, but I think we are going to work really hard, and I am excited about the opportunity,” Scassellati said.
This fall, over 800 students at Harvard are enrolled in CS50, which is titled “Intensive Introduction to Computer Science.” The number of students registered for the class makes it Harvard’s most popular course. Taught by Harvard professor David Malan, the class focuses on several introductory computer science topics, including algorithms, data structures, resource management, software engineering and web development.
Scassellatti said the course will cater to students with varying degrees of experience with computer science so that even those with no coding background can take CS50. He added that he hopes the course will help the department promote computer science on a wider scale.
Feigenbaum said she hopes that the faculty who attend Thursday’s meeting will recognize the extensive thought process the Yale computer science department has gone through in suggesting the initiative. She added that she thinks the proposal will be accepted.
“I think experimentation should be part of our general use for life in the University,” Feigenbaum said. “[The proposed joint course] is an experiment and it would be very closed minded to reject it without trying.”
In the past, Feigenbaum noted, faculty have been hesitant to accept online course models, which some claim would distance students from professors and cause a number of faculty to become unemployed. But Feigenbaum said this concern will not apply to the proposed CS50 course because it will be taught by a Yale professor, who will directly interact with students.
Unlike most other Yale courses, the class will feature undergraduate students in teaching assistant roles. The Harvard CS50 course and many other computer science courses across the country currently maintain a staff of undergraduate teaching assistants, Feigenbaum said, adding that computer science is a discipline that promotes collaboration with peers. The teaching assistant undergraduates are a crucial part of the social CS50 culture that Yale is trying to promote, she noted.
Scassellati said one of his primary roles will be managing and training the undergraduate teaching assistants. He added that he was confident in the abilities of the undergraduate community, many of whom he has worked with in his lab.
Computer science major Jackie Ferro ’17 said that although she has never taken a course with Scassellati, she has been trying to fit his classes into her schedule for the past two semesters. She added that despite her desire to take one of Scassellati’s courses, she does not want to take the introductory level joint CS50 course when she could take higher level computer science courses.
Apurv Suman ’15 said he thinks that Scassellati’s skills as a lecturer and adviser demonstrate his tireless commitment to students, noting that Scassellati even challenged him to complete his senior project during his junior fall and submit it early for publication.
Feigenbaum said that if Yale and Harvard choose to accept the proposal, the two universities’ administrations, rather than their computer science departments, will negotiate the financial arrangements related to the course. Since Yale and Harvard are two nonprofit institutions, she added, there should be few, if any, conflicts over the question of which party owns the intellectual property of the course. Feigenbaum noted that, as a result, CS50 is different from courses owned by large corporations that profit from making lectures available online.
The Yale College faculty meeting will occur in Connecticut Hall on Thursday at 4 p.m.