Diving into CS50

I recently signed up for CS50x: Introduction to Computer Science through edX. Actually, I signed up a while ago but didn’t get to actually exploring the course until last week.

I’m still at the beginning of this journey. So far, I’ve only completed the first problem set. I am currently on the second problem set and lecture videos.

Here are my initial experiences and observations:

  • I like that the information is provided in a variety of formats – lectures, shorts, sections, walkthroughs. While these are all video, I like that I can choose what works best for me. Personally, I prefer my information to be chunked into manageable pieces, so the “shorts” are awesome since they’re each about a particular topic.
  • While I normally have trouble retaining information from watching long lecture videos, I found that David Malan is a pretty engaging professor. Although his lectures are long (50 minutes), he does a great job of interspersing multimedia in his lectures so it’s not just him talking for that whole time. So, while these are longer videos, I don’t mind watching them as much.
  • I love the production quality of the videos. They’re well shot and edited.
  • That being said, it is a little annoying when 10 minutes are in-class announcements that don’t really apply to me as an online learner. I feel these should be edited out for the online version of the class.
  • I appreciate that in addition to these videos, there are also links to outside readings and tutorials.
  • I don’t really like the way the Problem Set pages are laid out. The instructions for each problem set are all on one page. To me, that’s overwhelming. I don’t like the feeling of seemingly endless scrolling and seeing a whole bunch of text on a page. While there are links on the left side that you can click though that take you to different parts of the page, I wonder if there’s a better way to organize this information. Personally, if I were designing something like this, I would just have different pages for each part of the problem, similar to the way most online tutorials are set up (step 1, step 2, step 3 etc). Granted, that means having to create more pages, but I feel like it would feel less cluttered and overwhelming for the user. But who knows, maybe I’m the only one who has a problem with this.
  • I really like that there’s online CS50 communities – there’s a twitter page, a twitter hashtag, a facebook group, and a discussion page within edX. I joined the facebook group and it’s nice to see where different users are at, and how they help each other trouble shoot. It seemed that the majority of people in the facebook group were taking the course online. I also follow the twitter page, but the majority of the content is mostly about the in person class happenings.
  • One thing I find really interesting is that after watching the video lectures and following the twitter page, I find myself wishing I took the actual course. I’m still learning the same material online, but, it doesn’t seem as fun or as cool as watching everyone in CS50 interact with each other via Twitter or other in person events. Even though it’s such a huge class, there’s a certain CS50 culture – or at least that’s what I perceive – that seems unique to those who are taking the class in person. As an online learner, I feel a little left out of this awesome in-person action. Though, I suppose I am here at Harvard, and I could just show up to some of their events….

I don’t know how feasible it will be for me to complete this course in addition to my other courses, but I’d like to keep trying. Although this is a “self-paced course,” there’s still a December 31st deadline when the course ends. That’s the only real hard deadline of when problem sets and a final project are due. Even if I don’t complete it by the deadline, though, I feel like I will still end up learning some valuable skills. And I do feel slightly better seeing that according to their proposed schedule of problem set deadlines, I’m actually in a pretty good place.

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2 thoughts on “Diving into CS50

  1. It is interesting to read about the experience of taking CS50 as an online class. It is a very well-known and popular class on campus that I believe has been offered online in at least one or two formats prior to being offered through the edX platform. It might be interesting to see whether or how the course has changed over those various platforms.

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    • Yeah – I wondered about that! I’m really curious to see if there’s still some record of those previous formats, and how they compare with the current one.

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