CS1102(A08): Accelerated Introduction to Program Design

Hints for Success

CS 1102 has a different style from programming courses you may have taken earlier. In many programming courses, your primary task is to learn how to produce running code in the language taught in the course. You cover other material along with the programming materials (data structures such as lists, trees, queues, etc), but your main goal is to be able to program effectively with the concepts covered in class.

In contrast, the concepts covered in CS 1102 are more abstract. In the languages portion of the course, we won't often say "here's a new data structure: write a program that uses it". Instead, we'll say "here's a new problem domain: figure out a language to simplify programming in this domain and how to create that language." This is a much more open-ended task. If you're not aware of this difference and approach the assignments like those from the more programming-oriented classes, you're likely to end up frustrated and lost.

This page gives you suggestions for how to adapt your working skills to the more open-ended style of CS 1102. If you're struggling with this adjustment, come see us and we'll help you with it. Most students struggle with this transition at some point (this is well-documented across college-age students), so please don't feel self-conscious about it (here's a short column on the stages of intellectual development in college students).

How to Study

For the first part of the course (where we learn functional programming), the syllabus page will contain links to extra exercises corresponding to each lecture. If you are having problems with the programming exercises we do in class, you need to be doing these extra problems. We will be teaching you a step-by-step approach to writing programs early in the course. If you're not able to start writing a program, you're not using the steps. We can help you with the steps if you come to office hours.

For the second part of the course (on languages), you will mostly be doing more open-ended assignments. The assignments will follow on similar examples from lecture. If you get stuck, go back to the lecture notes and study the process through which we approached the problem. Try to write down the kinds of questions that we asked that led from one stage of the solution to the next. If you don't see this process, it's very unlikely that you'll be able to do the assignment. Again, we can help you extract this process if you ask.

Students who've taken the course in the past offer consistent advice: attend lectures, start homework early (especially the project), and go to office hours.

Teaching Philosophy

I believe that interaction and reflection are crucial to learning. By interaction, I mean that you need to talk to other people (classmates, friends, course staff) about the material. Talking to other people forces you to articulate how you understand an area; it also provides opportunities for others to challenge your understanding (which in turn refines your understanding). Such interaction is a big part of what you're paying tuition for (as opposed to the more restricted interaction attainable through distance learning), so don't shy away from it.

By reflection, I mean that you need to pay attention to how you are learning as much as what you are learning. You need to stop periodically and ask yourself how you went about a problem and whether it was an effective approach. Assess your skills -- what do you do well and what do you struggle with? If you want to become a better learner (which ultimately makes you a better student), you have to take stock once in a while of how you're going about learning. We're almost never taught this skill of self-reflection, but it plays a large role in our growth as learners.

I will occasionally ask you to reflect on how you are solving a problem. Hopefully this will help advance your overall learning skills.