Summer Course Design Decisions

Compiled by: Stephan Kaminsky

A few of you may wonder what thought processes we went through to decide on how to change the course. We spend many hours debating on what the best method of delivering the course material in an efficient, easy to understand way given the circumstances.

We have listed below different questions we had and the answers we came up with:

Why are you planning on releasing all of the content of a week on Sunday instead of when it would be normally released?

Due to the nature of the online semester, we were given the freedom to make different design decisions which would not be possible during the normal semester. In particular, we have the ability to pre-record hi-fidelity learning material cut up into topical, bite sized chunks. Since many aspects of the course are pre recorded, we have the ability to release all of the material at a set time before the normal release date. We felt that it would be a good idea for us to take advantage of this so we could allow YOU to learn at your own pace. We understand that some of you may be working other jobs, taking care of family, etc. so we wanted to allow you to pick and choose when you completed different course materials. We have listed on our website the original times which the material would normally be released so you can follow that if you want to stick to the normal schedule-but you don’t have to! You can watch all of the weekly lectures on Monday if you like! Hopefully this decision will allow for you to have more time with some of the material and give you the freedom to learn as you like.

Since the summer is a fast paced course, we still will have strict due dates at the normal times to encourage you to keep up with the material. We tried to give as much time on assignments as possible without allowing you to fall too far behind. We strongly recommend you get ahead of the material so you have plenty of time to digest and ask questions as they come up. It is very easy to fall behind as there is a lot of material crammed into a short period of time.

How should Lectures be delivered?

While we would have wanted to give live lectures, we felt that given the circumstances, live lectures over Zoom seemed not to be as effective. This is partly out of our experience having to listen to live lectures over Zoom in the Spring. While some classes seemed to do a decent job, there still seemed to be lack of attendances or even questions which make the live lecture more pointless. Because of this, we felt it would be better to try to record higher fidelity videos which were split up into topical chunks. This would allow for shorter, more engaging lectures. (More details in the next question). We will still be having office hours during the week which we hope students will attend so they can get in person help with the material. This way, students can watch the lectures in their own time (they can even ‘sit’ (zoom) in office hours and ask questions as they watch the videos)! Hopefully this will allow students to not feel scared to ask a question in front of all of their peers since there traditionally will be much fewer students going to office hours.

Why are lectures split into topical chunks instead of a single long lecture?

Splitting a lecture into topical chunks allows for shorter, more engaging lectures. We find that people tend to lose focus during a longer lecture so giving lectures asynchronously allows us to split them up into no more than 10-15 minute chunks. In addition, we can give a few ‘clicker’ questions (questions which are directly related to the video to make sure you were following along with what was discussed) to help you ensure you understood that video (plus it helps us give you a few free points if you complete it :) ). We feel these will be a good resource for you to review when you are studying for an exam–you can now watch specific topics you struggled with more easily to try to better understand the material.

Why do you have a synchronous and asynchronous discussion? Couldn’t you just record the synchronous discussion and post those videos?

We wanted to give a true asynchronous solution to discussions which comes more in the form of a walkthrough of the worksheet. We strongly encourage you to attempt the worksheet before you watch the video, but you will now have the resources of our brilliant TAs walking you through how to solve the different problems on our discussion worksheets. We could just record the synchronous discussions (which we will probably still do) though discussions typically do not complete the worksheet. We also wanted to try to ensure there was split up (similar to lectures), hi-fidelity resource reviewing our discussions to hopefully assist you as best as we could. We wanted to also keep some synchronous discussions at scattered times. This was because we know some of you like to interact with the TAs, asking questions about concepts deeper than what we were discussing or find it more useful to have a more traditional discussion section. We wanted to try to accommodate as many different students as possible which is why we did both.

Why are you still having ‘in person’ lab checkoffs instead of asynchronous ones? (In general decisions about labs).

We have very strong opinions about labs and their purpose. We feel that lab checkoffs are an important interaction between the student and TA which allows for the TA to ask more personalized questions which can better allow the student to assess and learn the material. Because of this, we decided to keep lab checkoffs. We have made some changes which we hope will alleviate some of the issues we had with labs: we have split lab help and lab checkoffs into two different categories. Lab checkoffs will be given during specific appointment slots. We decided to do this to ensure everyone will have a timeslot to checkoff for each lab. Part of the issue we would have during lab is students taking more time to complete a lab checkoff meaning some students may not be able to get checked off. Giving a set appointment ensures everyone will have the ability to get a checkoff. We know students have questions about labs so we will also be offering lab specific office hours. These will be given in a single zoom room to allow for many students to join in to listen to some of the possible questions someone may have. The TA may opt to move a student to a breakout room if the question would show code/share answers though we are trying not to do that to allow for other students to ‘listen over our shoulders to others in the room’. We hope these changes will supplement the traditional lab experience CS 61C offers.

Why are you requiring partners for checkoffs?

We feel partners are beneficial for multiple reasons.

The first benefit is you have another student to work with to solve the lab problems. This is helpful because there are times one student may be struggling with a concept while the partner is not. This allows for the opportunity for you to be able to teach what you understand to your partner. We find that you typically learn the material better when you attempt to teach it to someone, as you have to figure out how to break down concepts and clear misconceptions.

The second reason is due to the increased volume of students taking this class. We would be unable to check everyone off if we did not have partners. Requiring everyone to have a partner allows us to cut the required number of lab checkoffs in half meaning it will be much easier to be able to check everyone off.

Why are you still giving exams? How did you decide on the format?

We decided to keep exams as we feel they are still another method for us to evaluate you. This is not to say we feel it will allow us to evaluate you in the same sense as previous semesters though we feel we can design questions which will test to see if you understand the theory of the content we teach. We have decreased the weighting of exams to account for us not being able to use the exams as a perfect evaluation of your understanding of the material. In fact, the weighting is so that each project is roughly equivalent to an exam (the final being equal to two projects as it does cover all of the materials).

The format of the exam will still be more traditional (multiple choice, short free response, etc) because of the variety of material which we cover in this class. We feel that this would be the best, painless method of testing your understanding (separate from projects).

We are also making the exams open book, open internet, closed friend. This means you can refer to your notes or internet resources to help you solve exam questions. You are NOT allowed to communicate with anyone about any of the questions during the exam. If you are caught, you will fail the class. We wanted to keep things open book and internet because we felt that students would probably use those resources regardless or figure out other methods to cheat. Because of this, we wanted to level the field and allow everyone to use their resources. I always think there is a skill to using the internet which exams typically do not account for.

Why are you having synchronous exams? Why did you not decide on giving us a limited time to solve the exam at any time of the day?

To help combat cheating, we felt that giving the exams during one time slot in the day would help decrease the ability for students to cheat. We design the exams so you have enough time though you will struggle if you do not have a strong grasp of the material. We even put questions in place which allow for us to detect if you were working with other people. We have methods to figure out if you were working with someone else so DO NOT WORK WITH OTHERS during exams. We may offer an alternate exam time for those who are unable to take the exam at the normal time though we will reserve the right to give an additional oral exam to ensure the student actually understood the material.

Why will you not be recording office hours?

We will not be recording office hours as we want them to be a safe place for students to ask questions to a TA without feeling judged by other students. We want to make sure we keep those questions a bit more private, to only the students who are in the office hours call at the time. If there is a really good general question a TA receives, they may ask if they could record the questions and explanation they may give IF they feel that it is a common question other students may have. We may not always post those videos though we will leave the ability for us to do so there just in case.

Why are all office hours in one(ish) zoom room?

We wanted to make office hours in a public zoom room for students to sit in and listen to questions their peers may be asking. We felt that this would be a better method which would emulate how office hours have traditionally been. This should also help with students who have the same question-other students will still be able to listen so they do not have to ask the same question. This can even allow for students to ‘meet up’ to study material to gether.

Should we have multiple TAs at office hours?

Currently, we schedule to have 1 TA in charge of 1 office hour slot, because we would want more office hours available throughout the day, so students from different time zones can have access to these synchronous office hours. However, we would adjust the schedule as the semester goes on. For example, we may assign tutors to support office hours that have a high demand. We would cancel some office hours that have few students and move the TA to busy office hour slots.