Friday, December 1, 2023

Opinion: What freshman comp sci has taught me about the university’s priorities

OpinionOp-EdOpinion: What freshman comp sci has taught me about the university's priorities


I am one of the few seniors that sits in a class of freshman computer science majors, and lots of them.

What exactly is a senior history and English double major doing in a class of a bunch of students straight out of high school? Well, taking advantage of my second-to-last semester of college and a flexible schedule, I chose to start from scratch in a skill that I’ve always wanted to learn: coding. 

In this class, I’ve learned what loops, functions and dataclasses are, but beyond that, I’ve learned what it means to be in a supported, resourced class at the university. 

In this computer science class, basically at any minute, at any time of the day, I can find a teaching assistant (TA) somewhere on campus or on Zoom waiting to answer my questions. For instance, on a given Wednesday, there are TAs for this course essentially available from 8:40 a.m to 7:15 p.m.

If I happen to miss a day of class, the course staff — which consists of a professor and over 20 TAs — basically makes it impossible for me to get behind, with a requirement for students to go to office hours to review the material with a TA as well as abundant material on the Canvas page. 

Speaking of the Canvas page, which for many of my other classes consists of a weird hodge podge of hidden information, the page for this course has everything you need and more. There’s a form for everything you can think of: a class absence form, an extension request form, an exam trouble form, a Disability Support Services exam accommodations form and an anonymous feedback form. 

If staffed office hours every day for nearly eight hours isn’t enough for you, there is also an extra help request form. 

The first time I attended this class, I was intimidated by all of this. “This must be one hard class,” I thought to myself. 

But the truth is, the class isn’t easy, but it’s not hard, because of how impeccably straightforward and accessible every aspect of it is. 

No other class I’ve taken at the university has come close to this level of student support. 

Though my English and history classes are notably smaller in class size than this introductory course, the level of support in this computer science class is disproportionately large compared to what I’ve experienced in my other courses. 

Rarely will there be a teaching assistant in my history or English courses, or if there is, they do not match the level of support and accessibility you get from TAs in this course (did I mention there is a Discord forum that you can also use as a method of asking students, the TAs and the instructor questions about the course?). 

For seeking outside help in my humanities courses, students are usually referred to the university Writing Center as a resource. As a former Writing Center tutor myself, I agree that this is a useful resource for students looking for help from more experienced writers. 

However, from my time working at the Writing Center, I learned that it’s not the end-all-be-all writing solution, at least not right now. Spots fill up fast at the Writing Center with a small staff of tutors, and if a student doesn’t book an appointment in advance, they may be out of luck. 

Additionally, students would often come to me at the Writing Center looking for feedback on content that was just too course-specific. I could tell them the general issues with their writing, but I couldn’t offer them the feedback they were looking for in terms of how their arguments relate to what they have learned in their course. 

With that being said, besides the instructor’s office hours, this is usually where the resources for support have ended in my English and history classes. 

This discrepancy in support shows me what the university does and doesn’t value. It values its nationally ranked computer science program, and provides that program with sufficient funding and resources to support the success of its students. 

What about its students not in computer science, engineering, business, nursing or one of these other higher-ranked programs? Well, it seems the university could take them or leave them.

I hope for future students’ sake, that the university will invest more into ALL of its students, especially those students who may have decided to follow their passions with an English, history, art, women’s studies, Africana studies or other degree that may have less prestige attached. 

But if the university can’t do that, then they should at least give my computer science professor a raise. 




  1. Hi Tara! I’ve been a CISC108 TA for two semesters now, and I’m so glad you had a great experience with this course that means so much to many of us. Last semester was the first after a complete transformation of the content, training for teaching assistants, available resources, and more. This was largely done (unpaid) by my friend and colleague Megan Englert for her senior thesis regarding introductory computer science education, and has little to do with departmental funding. When I took the class just two semesters prior, we did not have the level of support available to students now. No discord, cohorts, TA training, or practicum lab sessions. As I am finishing my second year in the computer science department, I can confidently say we are underfunded and lack the resources many assume us to have. Ask any upperclassman computer science major and they will have countless stories of the University letting our department down. We also face a perpetual shortage of professors because they do not get paid nearly enough, though I’m certain that’s not unique to our department. There are more qualified people to speak on the specifics, but I would like readers to be aware that the experience beyond CISC108 is very different, and the driving force for our success and national rank is solely the passion of our students and educators.


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