Another computer science core class has changed to the large lecture format. This semester, CSCI 265 Computer Theory I will be offered twice a week as a 200-student synchronous online lecture.
In previous semesters, it was offered as multiple sections of about 30 students each. In fall 2020, the class size limit was raised to 40 with one section of 90. This was due to a Hunter-wide policy of increasing online class sizes. It was taught by Jordi Navarette, Justin Tojeira, and Ariel Avshulamov. This spring, it will be taught by Dr. Levitan.
Historically, the computer science department has converted multi-section classes into a single large lecture to standardize the curriculum. Professor Eric Schweitzer recalls that in the 1980s, Discrete Math (CSCI 150) was taught by a collection of adjunct professors. However, every adjunct put a unique emphasis on the "standardized" curriculum. So some may have spent more time on first order logic, while others delved into number theory. The department came to a decision that it was important for all students to have the same discrete math background for the major. The easiest way to do this is to have one professor teach. Thus, the format was changed to lecture+recitations.
The two big factors influencing today's decision were Hunter's space issues and the rapid growth in computer science enrollment.
First and foremost, Hunter College doesn't have enough classroom space to accommodate every class during the prime time slots, 9:45 AM - 6:50 PM. There's enough space outside of those times, but "it is difficult to find qualified adjuncts to teach at either 8am or 7pm" says Khant Ko Naing, part of the computer science department staff.
The second reason is the high student to qualified faculty ratio. "The CSCI major has gone from 85 majors in 2010 to 1500+ in 2020", says Ko. "By going 'large lecture', we can maintain a consistently high level of instruction from full-time faculty, while utilizing UTAs and graduate students to make sure students get the help they need. The same principle applies not just to 265 but all our large lecture courses. We understand that being in a large lecture is not as attractive to students as small sections but with the rate the major has grown and the space limitations we face, this is the best solution we have."
This spring, 265 will be taught by Dr. Levitan with support from Teaching Assistants. The TAs will grade homework and provide support during office hours. According to one teaching assistant, the class will be more focused on quizzes over tests.
The curriculum will be focused on traditional topics like DFAs, NFAs, and computability. This is Dr. Levitan's first time teaching this course, but she has lots of experience teaching related electives like the Natural Language Processing (CSCI 49262) elective in the fall.
It is unclear if 265 will remain a large lecture after this spring. The Hunter administration hasn't released any details about the mode of instruction for the fall 2021 semester. A lot of logistics hang on capacity limits within the building to prevent COVID-19 transmission. With vaccines slowly becoming available to larger parts of the public, it may be possible to return to campus – but that wouldn't solve Hunter's pre-existing space issues. The Icarus will follow up when the administration releases more details about the fall.