(Guest post by Sorelle Friedler. Companion post at her blog
This summer I taught the 400-level Algorithms class at the University of
Maryland. Two summers ago I taught a 300-level programming languages
class, and promised myself that I'd never teach another summer class.
Apparently the lure of getting to teach Algorithms was just too much for
me. I love teaching, and enjoyed teaching this summer, but summer classes
are exhausting for students and teachers. I also believe that they're
ill-advised for the students and think it's a problem that students are
not warned against them. This, of course, is the true problem; I knew
what I was getting into - they didn't.
While summer classes have the same amount of in-class time as regular
semester classes, the out of class time is significantly less (the regular
semester class takes 15 weeks, while the summer version takes 6). This
satisfies the accountants, but doesn't give the students enough time to
actually absorb the material. In addition, as Bill notes in the dual to
this post, the students who take summer classes do not represent the
standard distribution of ability. Specifically, there are more weak
students - the students who could most use the extra time. In Computer
Science, especially in programming classes, having enough time is
And what about the strong students? They certainly still learned the
material and did a great job on the homework. I decided to assign a
somewhat open-ended programming project (a topic for a different post),
and the strong students challenged themselves and did an amazing job. Yet
with more time there would have been more opportunity for challenging
problems and more advanced topics.
I admit, of course, that having summer classes makes logistical sense.
It's a good chance for students to get ahead or just manage to graduate on
time. Despite the problems, students learn something, pass, and get to
move on. But if the goal is a deep understanding of the material or even
an understanding equivalent to that achieved in a regular semester course,
the summer just isn't good enough.