While a long-standing issue, students have recently expressed concerns about the overwhelming workload required in computer science courses. In response to these concerns, the Department of Computer Science implemented a task force to review the department’s curriculum over the course of this academic year and computer science professors have provided flexibility with course requirements. While these efforts are commendable, they are insufficient to promptly remediate student stress levels caused by overwhelming amounts of work in computer science classes. In addition to a long-term examination of the computer science curriculum, we recommend that the task force initiate an immediate review of issues caused by the pandemic and continue to work with professors to alleviate student stress.
Except for revamping Intro to Computer Science (COMP 11) in 2019, the Department of Computer Science has not made significant updates to its curriculum in years, necessitating a long-overdue restructuring of curricula. Furthermore, universities across the country are struggling to find ways to attract and maintain a diverse student body in computer science. Radical changes within the department are necessary and will take time; we commend the task force for its long-term review of the curriculum.
In addition to the task force, some professors responded to student complaints by making changes to course requirements. For example, Mark Sheldon, a professor of computer science, has reduced coursework and hired more teaching assistants to reduce wait times in office hours. These efforts should be recognized as they represent a viable short-term solution to a larger, structural problem within the computer science department.
Despite these short-term strides, students taking computer science classes remain overwhelmed by coursework; some students reported that they spend more than 15 hours a week on homework. While computer science classes are notoriously rigorous, the pandemic exacerbates course difficulty and increases student workload, as many students cannot easily collaborate with others or access in-person instruction. As a result, students may sacrifice time spent completing work for other classes to keep up with computer science, compounding stress levels already caused by learning during a pandemic.
While the task force aims to address these concerns in its review, putting students through another semester of inordinate amounts of work and stress in computer science classes is unacceptable. In addition to a long-term, structural review of computer science curricula, the task force should also conduct a more immediate, semester-long investigation of the pandemic’s effects on computer science workload.
To start, the task force should use the findings of recent midsemester surveys sent out to computer science classes to make short-term modifications of class requirements according to students’ needs. By the end of the semester, the task force must make concrete recommendations to the department about how to limit workload and better support struggling students during the pandemic. In the meantime, computer science professors who haven’t already should follow Professor Sheldon’s lead in making immediate, tangible changes to their classes’ workloads, such as giving more time to complete assignments and extending office hours.
In the long term, it is important for the Department of Computer Science to dynamically adapt to the evolving demands of the academic world. In its year-long review, the department should look into more permanent solutions, directing its efforts with the guidance of student feedback.