Posted by: atri | November 8, 2012

Comments on Feedback

Thanks to everyone who filled in the feedback form. Thanks for both telling me what was working and suggestions for improvements. Below the fold are the details.

First, I will tackle issues that were raised by more than one student:

  1. No programming. Some of you mentioned that you do not like the fact that the course is all proofs and there is no programming assignment (and hence the material is not practical). First, I purposefully keep the course completely proof based. Most of you do not have any intensive proof based course and this will probably be the only course where you will do so. However, the sole aim is not to get you guys to write proofs (though it can be important in many practical situations, e.g. is you are writing a code that goes into an aircraft then you will have to prove that your code is correct because you cannot take the chance that your faulty code leads to a plane crash). More importantly, my hope is that this course force you to think abstractly and logically. Why is this useful in practice? I can talk about philosophical reasons but here is the most relevant practical reason: when you are working and have to write code to implement a task, you will first think abstractly about the problem, design an algorithm and then code it up. (This is precisely the reason why many CS job interviews focus on algorithms/data structure questions.)
  2. Timing issues. I’m sorry for the time pressure on the mid-term– I’m finding out that it is really hard to get a non-trivial mid-term that does not have huge time pressures. However, the final exam would be much better. Here is how I design it. The exam is for 150 minutes. I design it in such a way so that a student who on the ball, should be able to get through the exam in 100 minutes (and at least get 90% is the stuff done correctly). Then everyone gets a 50% “cushion.”
  3. Quizzes/better sample final exam. I am lumping together two different items as my responses are related. One observation was that you guys do not get exposed to the T/F type questions until the exam and you guys do not get practice. It was suggested that quizzes be given out so that you guys get some practice under time constraint. Also the sample mid-term was much easier than the actual exam (I did mention that this would be the case but I see the issue) and it would be better to have a sample exam that is of similar difficulty. So here is my proposal: I am going to hand out a final exam from one of the previous years as the same final exam. Further, for those who are interested, you can answer the T/F questions at home under clock (so the time aspect is all on the honor system). You can then submit this with HW 10 and I will grade them back to you. Just to be doubly sure: this will be completely optional. Further, your score on this extra “quiz” will not affect your grade in any way what-so-ever.
  4. TA/Grading stuff. If you get a comment saying that the grader did not understand your answer, please go and check with the grader why the grader did not understand your answer. Sometimes even though you have the right idea in your head what you write might not reflect that. (Also, it is very hard to be really objective about the effectiveness of your own writing– I still struggle with it!– so it never hurts to get more feedback.) If you cannot meet the TAs during their usual meeting times, please send them an email to try and set up an alternate meeting time.
  5. Time spend on the HW is not reflected in the HW grades. First, see the above comment. Second, time spent on HWs, even if they do not show up in your HW score columns is not time wasted. It will help you do better in the exams. So please do spend as much time as you can on HWs. This is something I cannot prove to you’ll have to take my word.

Below are some comments that were made by one student but for some reason or other, it caught my eye:

  1. Why is A graded on a absolute scale? Sorry, should have made this clear earlier. This is definitely a personal reason: I think a student who gets an A in an offering of the course should have been able to get an A in any other offering of the course.  In other words, the fact that you got an A should not depend how everyone else in the class did.
  2. The handwritten notes are hard to follow later on. I’ll try to make this better but the best way to get around this is to take notes yourself. Reading someone else’s notes is generally never easy. In particular, I state a lot of things verbally and do not write everything down. This is also true of my talks: my slides do not make much sense unless you hear me give the talk. I’ll try to improve but no guarantees.



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