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How important is “delivering the content” of a course?

Course Queries Syllabus Queries

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( 4 months ago )


In most fields instructors spend a lot of time on the Content of a course. Often this is phrased as Delivering Content, or Completing the Syllabus. The traditional picture, whether valid or not, is an instructor (single) broadcasting Content to students (multiple). I wonder if this is a common view of CS education.

In a course like Data Structures, there a lot of things (content) that the student has to learn: Stacks, Sets, Trees, ... along with common algorithms. Normally there is a syllabus that lists all these things in some rational order. "Covering it" is a sort of meta-constraint (or sometimes a hard constraint) on the instructor.

In the compiler course, the Content is more about technique than facts, of course, but those techniques possibly are the content: scanning, parsing, ...

So, I guess the question that I would most like advice on here is:

If you could order your goals in a typical undergrad course where would "Deliver the Content" fit? High, Low? What, if anything, would be above it?

What would be the effect on your students if you move that goal up? down? remove it altogether?

Another aspect of this is how much control does/should the professor have in the flow of the course; especially in content delivery? Absolute? None? What balance works for you?



( 4 months ago )

NoteThis answer is not long, but it is not meant to be skimmed.

The most important goal is to make emotionally healthy, capable, empowered adults who can solve the problems that life throws at them in the future. We don't get to know what those problems are. Many of the problems don't exist yet. We don't get to know what tools will be available to solve the problems. Many of the tools don't exist yet. All of which leaves us with the central challenge: we ultimately must teach our students to be adaptive, flexible thinkers and learners.

Flexibility comes from learned patterns of thinking (literally patterns and formations of neurons that allow us to easily integrate similar future patterns of thinking) and from meta-learning knowledge (e.g. "I am capable of learning new material when I need to by breaking things down into steps", or "I tend to learn more easily from books than from videos").

The course material, then, is somewhat secondary to the central concern. Carefully chosen, however, it becomes the motivation for the more central learning.

This is important: every school that I've ever heard of offering a class like "study skills" eventually dropped it. Directly studying how to learn does not appear to serve us well. We need rich systems to engage with, and we then come to the meta-learning slowly and in due time. That is what the course material accomplishes for us. It is the rich set of motivating material with which we can empower people to solve the problems of the future.

what's your interest