TITLE: A New Semester Begins
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: January 13, 2011 3:42 PM
Every new course starts with a tingle of the unknown.
How will this semester go? Will I enjoy it? Will my
students? Will they learn what they want and need to
learn? Will I?
No matter how many years I teach, or how well I know
the students in my class, I feel the same way. I loved
this as a student, too. One of then reasons I liked
my universities' trimester systems was that I got to
feel it three times a year, not just two.
I am completing the first week of teaching Intelligent
Systems, one of my department's capstone project
courses for majors. I used to teach this course every
spring, but I haven't taught the course since 2002,
when I went on sabbatical and let a junior colleague
take on our AI sequence. Imagine my surprise to find
that this area of computer science has changed some in
eight years! That makes teaching the course again fun
Students are beginning to form teams and hone in on
systems to build. This group has an interesting history
with me. Some I had in class
Some last took class with me
One last took a class with in Fall 2006, when I introduced
A few are seeing me in class for the first time, after
receiving department e-mail from me for years.
I feel some pressure teaching this course. Eight years
is a long time in CS Time and in Internet Time. Change
happens, and accelerates. I have to refamiliarize myself
with what's state of the art. Not having taught AI over
the same period, I have to refamiliarize myself with what
students find interesting in AI these days. That's fun,
and there's some comfort in knowing that AI has a certain
evergreen appeal to young minds. Games, machine learning,
and "real-world problems" always seem to interest some
More pressure... This is a course I prefer to teach with
little or no lecture. Every day, I potentially face the
question that scares most of us, at least a little bit:
What will I do today? I have a general plan for the
course, but I can't script it. Much of how the course
proceeds depends on what the students think and do. I've
been reactive so far, in what I feel is a good way. On
the first day, I asked students to fill out a short survey
on their background, interests, and goals for the course.
On the second day, my remarks responded to what they wrote
on the surveys and connected those answers with recent
experiences of my own and on the sort of problems we face
in computing these days. Among these is the way "big
data" interacts with the time and space constraints we
always face in CS.
I am excited.
My initial inclination after class was to tweet. That
would have been quick and easy. Sometimes, that's the
right way to go. 140 characters is perfect for a pithy
observation. But I realized that my immediate observation
after class was unfolding other thoughts about the week
and the course, and about how I am feeling. This is one
of the reasons I blog: to encourage myself to think
further, to reflect more deeply, and to decide what things
mean. So I blogged instead. My initial inclination for
a tweet became the first line of my entry. It will also
make a nice tweet announcing the blog entry!