638 vs. 838

by Mike Gleicher on December 29, 2014

As you probably observed, this class is actually two classes: CS638 – Undergraduate Topics in Computings and CS838 – Graduate Topics in Computing. These two classes will meet together, and share (almost) all of the material.

You should ask yourself: which one should I take, and sign up for the correct one. Note: if you want to switch sections, we will make it possible for you to do so during the 1st week (and before). Don’t worry about the other class being “full”.

How you should decide:

  1. If you are an undergraduate, sign up for 638. Period.
  2. If you are a CS graduate student and want “core credit” sign up for 838.
  3. If you aren’t willing to program, don’t sign up for 838 (we’ll expect you to implement things – and assume that you’ll be able to figure out tools to do so).
  4. Otherwise, read the description of what the differences will be below and choose. Selfishly, I would prefer that more people sign up for 638 (so that the numbers look good), but its more important that people choose what’s right for them.

The requirements for 838 are a superset of those for 638 (that is, an 838 student will be asked to do all the work a 638 student does – and more). The two groups will be evaluated independently (separate curves).

The differences in the classes stem from the fact that I view a graduate class as being a way to train students to be researchers, educators, and advanced practitioners. It’s not just about more advanced material.

In a graduate class (in CS), I think students should be learning to:
  1. Read from the research literature (and to find their way around in it). This includes both advanced things (that you can only learn from papers), but also to be able to read the “original sources” to see how ideas developed.
  2. Apply their (existing) implementation skills fluently to construct things from scratch.
  3. Critique others (since peer review is such a big part of the research process, and many of you are considering teaching careers).

So, in addition to all the stuff 638 students do, 838 students will have to:

  • Read (more of) the original research papers, not just the textbooks.
  • Have assignments that involve identifying what the right papers are to read (literature searches).
  • Perform more peer assessment and evaluation (yes, you will be helping with grading)
  • Have implementation oriented assignments

Of course, 638 students will be allowed to do this stuff too (it will be optional). If you put more into the class, you will get more out of it. But I won’t force/expect 638 students to do as much.

Note: none of the extra work for 838 is “busywork.” I actually think that by doing the additional things, you will get more out of the class – both in terms of the amount you learn about the topic, but also in terms of general “skills you should be developing as a grad student” development. But you will also put more in.

Normally, I would expect grad class students to work on presentation skills and to have an independent project as part of the class. Given the large size of the class this semester, that may not be practical.

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