Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Reflecting on CS222 Advanced Programming, Fall 2023 Edition

As you may have noticed, I tried something a little different this year and extracted topical reflections into their own posts [1,2] rather than embed them into a lengthier reflection about a class. Aside from those concerns already expressed, CS222 went quite smoothly this semester. I had a small section, and I feel like I had a good rapport with the students. 

I had most recently been teaching the course on a MWF schedule, but this semester it was back to my preferred Tuesday-Thursday schedule. This means more time in one session to dive into a topic, but it also meant I touched on fewer topics. This is a worthwhile exchange, but I didn't get to all the extras I like to cover during the semester. For example, we didn't get a chance to explore state management in Flutter as much as I would have liked. That particular context is where we get into the Observer design pattern, which this batch of students will not know by name. I also did not get a chance to talk at all about software licensing and intellectual property aside from a quick, hand-waving statement that the students own the rights to their projects.

I also added a fourth week to the pre-project portion of the class, cutting a week off of the final project to compensate. This gave more time in the early part of the semester, where students tend to struggle with the basics. Shortening the iteration lengths for the final project did have the anticipated positive effect that students worked more consistently. That is, reducing the time between deliverables gave students fewer opportunities to procrastinate.

The most surprising finding this semester was that the first Clean Code assignment was too easy. I've been giving this assignment for years: read the first chapter of Clean Code and write a paragraph reflecting on which definition of "clean code" most resonates with you. It is intended as a warm-up exercise to get students used to the unconventional method of documenting and submitting work for the course. One of my students pointed out that it gave him a false sense of what to expect from assignments, all of which take orders of magnitude more effort than this first one. I am thinking of simply dropping the assignment in favor of more meaningful ones.

I teach CS222 almost every semester, but I have a break next semester while I work on a funded research project. It will be good to have a little break from it, and I imagine I will be back on rotation some time next academic year. We also had a new faculty member teach the course this Fall, but I haven't made the opportunity to talk to him about the experience yet. I will do that in Spring.

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