Department of Computer Science
University of Washington, Seattle Campus
Computer Science Tastes its Own Medicine
It's no surprise that the Computer Science & Engineering department is exploring innovative applications of the World Wide Web. What may be surprising are the unique learning opportunities these forays afford students and instructors in the department. Department chair Ed Lazowska considers CSE 142, an introductory programming course that serves approximately 550 students every quarter, to be a model of how Web-based technologies can be used in support of teaching.
The course Web site boasts a complete suite of 'standard' resources: PowerPoint transparencies for every lecture, all assignments and their solutions, all exams and their solutions, etc. Students also have access to class newsgroups, where they can post their programming woes and hope for a suggestion from peers or teaching assistants. Periodically, TAs nominate student solutions for the "Homework Hall of Fame" posting stellar homework to the Web to be viewed by classmates. The complete Web pages from previous quarters are preserved and linked to the current quarter's Web site, making these comprehensive resources available to all students.
Virtual Lab Consultants
High enrollments and undersized computer labs necessitated a creative solution, allowing students to take advantage of the expertise of technical support staff from home or other labs. The department's teleconsulting initiative uses communication technologies ranging from the telephone to Microsoft NetMeeting, which permits a consultant to 'take over' a student's computer remotely, to assist students working from home. Students send a request for help by putting their name in a queue from the teleconsulting Web page.
Streaming Media for Distributed Education
On-campus students can also take advantage of a collaborative project between the University of Washington and a number of community colleges in the Seattle area, which addresses a shortage of computer science instructors at the community college level. The project is modeled after televised video instruction (TVI) experiments led by Jim Gibbons at Stanford's School of Engineering in the mid-1970s. Video recordings of CSE 142 lectures given at the UW campus, along with synchronized presentation materials (PowerPoint slides) and annotations, are digitized and posted to the Web. On-campus students thus have access not only to the transparencies, but also to the complete class session and subsequent annotations so they can review or catch up on missed lectures. At the community colleges, a 'tutor/facilitator' views the lecture with a small group of students, stopping the video stream frequently to guide the students towards the resolution of questions in a 'small-group facilitated learning' format. This same model, employed by Gibbons with analog video tapes, revealed surprising results: TVI students actually performed better than their in-class counterparts at the Master's level.
Expanding their Reach
Now Lazowska, armed with a grant from the University's Program for Educational Transformation through Technology, hopes to learn how this method can be used most effectively in the state-wide lower-division setting, including a new course in "Information Technology Fluency" as well as the department's introductory programming offerings. The department also uses streaming media technology in its Professional Masters Program, and to broadcast and archive its colloquium series, which has been combined with colloquia offered by other major universities across the country on a site maintained by Microsoft Research.