TITLE: A New Semester Begins AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: January 13, 2011 3:42 PM DESC: ----- BODY: 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 and challenging. 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 last term. Some last took class with me last fall or last summer. One last took a class with in Fall 2006, when I introduced media computation to our CS1 course. 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 students. 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! -----