New for Fall 2017

by Mike Gleicher on August 10, 2017

CS765 was offered in Spring of 2017. The basic structure of the class was good, but there were a number of things that left room for improvement. This Fall 2017 edition of CS765 will try to fix some of those things.

I am posting this list partially as notes to myself (to remind myself what I am doing), but also so you can see that I really do listen to students, and know what to ignore from previous course offererings.

The grading scheme was a mess

Figuring out how to grade this class is messy no matter what. This time, I am just admitting that I have no good way to evaluate online discussions, and am not even going to try to give meaningful scoring.

Worse, last time, I did gather quantitative statistics on online discussions – which upset people because they though that was the evaluation criteria. I find the quantitative info interesting, but I didn’t want to imply that how much you wrote mattered more than what you wrote. (that said, my informal examination is the two were well correlated).

The web presence was a mess

Someone pointed out to me that a student had to use 4 different web systems (the web page, Canvas, Piazza, and Box for the reader).

I only found out at the end of the semester that the scheme we had for pushing notifications was only notifying me. So no one was getting notifications.

Part of the problem is that we need the different web systems – they are each good for different things. This semester, I will try to focus more on using Canvas, since while it isn’t the easiest to keep organized, it is a central place for many things.

We had a irregular schedule at the start

It took a while to get the class into a regular rhythm. After I while, I found the right rhythm. This year, we will a similar scheme right from week 1.

Consistency in Assignments is important

Related to the irregular start, the regular assignments need to be regular (and they will).

One trick will be to properly mix in the “irregular” parts of class (the design challenges) so that there aren’t weeks of craziness mixed in with weeks of boredom.

I missed the first week

I won’t do that again. The first week is important, for many reasons. It sets the tone for class, is an important time to get to know people, etc. I will miss class for some conferences, but I won’t miss the first week.

We had a terrible room (for this class – it’s probably good for other things)

It seemed like a good idea – a “collaboration classroom” where students sit around tables and can work together. But what it meant was a room that put me in the center, with everyone’s back to me. It meant lectures were terrible, I didn’t get to know students, and traditional lecture interactions didn’t work well.

This year we are in a more traditional classroom. It limits the class size (for better or worse), but lectures will go better. In class exercises might be tougher…

Students weren’t getting the basics in a concrete way

A lot of material was presented abstractly, and I went through the concrete manifestations very quickly. I will try to put more energy into making these foundations (like encodings) concrete, using in class exercises and other pedagogical designs.

Because I really cannot check the online discussions (and I don’t want to give quizzes), I have less of a sense of how well students are grasping the concepts. This semester, I will try to have more class exercises to help students self-assess.

Design comes into class too late

Part of the argument is that you shouldn’t make stuff until you know what to make. But I want to get more design in earlier, since making stuff is important to many people (and is fun).

The Importance of Critique wasn’t made clear

We did a lot of critique – but I didn’t explain why it is so critical to doing vis (and learning about vis). This year I will be clearer about why we focus so much on critique and try to make it a more regular activity.

The overall plan for class wasn’t emphasized

I have a strong opinion on how you should learn about visualization. This class implements that plan, and provides (what I believe is) a good foundation for doing all kinds of vis work as a user, a tool builder, or a researcher. There is a method to the madness – the steps really do follow.

However, I am not sure that I communicated my strategy for why we are doing things the way we are doing them. It was communicated briefly, in an early class. I will try to better emphasize my philosophy and come back to it. I’ll also try to communicate it in writing.

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