TITLE: Teaching a Compressed Class
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: May 12, 2014 5:01 PM
May term started today, so my agile course is off the ground.
We will meet for 130 minutes every morning through June 6,
excepting only Memorial Day. That's a lot of time spent
together in a short period of time.
As I told the students today, each class is almost a week's
worth of class in a regular semester. This means committing
a fair amount of time out of class every day, on the order
of 5-7 hours. There isn't a lot of time for our brains to
percolate on the course content. We'll be moving steadily
for four weeks.
This makes May term unsuitable, in my mind at least, for a
number of courses. I would never teach CS 1 in May term.
Students are brand new to the discipline, to programming,
and usually to their first programming language. They
need time for the brains to percolate. I don't
think I'd want to teach upper-division CS courses in May
term if they have a lot of content, either. Our brains
don't always absorb a lot of information quickly in a short
amount of time, so letting it sink in more slowly, helped
by practice and repetition, seems best.
My agile course is, on the other hand, almost custom made
for a compressed semester. There isn't a lot of essential
"content". The idea is straightforward. I don't expect
students to memorize lists of practices, or the rules of
tools. I expect them to do the practices. Doing
them daily, in extended chunks of time, with immediate
feedback, is much better than taking a day off between
Our goal is, in part, to learn new habits and then reflect
on how well they fit, on where they might help us most and
where they might get in the way. We'll have better success
learning new habits in the compressed term than we would
with breaks. And, as much as I want students to work daily
during a fifteen-week semester to build habits, it usually
just doesn't happen. Even when the students buy in and
intend to work that way, life's other demands get in the
way. Failing with good intentions is still failing, and
sometimes feels worse than failing without them.
So we begin. Tomorrow we start working on our first
practice, a new way of working with skills to be learned
through repetition every day the rest of the semester. Wish