CS50, Harvard's introductory computer science course, last year became the school's most popular course of any kind. Professor David Malan's lectures are highly polished, fast-paced performances filled with props, demonstrations, and student involvement. Students aren't required to attend, though; lectures are recorded in a slick, multi-camera format with production values that rival commercial TV, and most students watch them online. In addition to being Harvard's No. 1 course, it's offered simultaneously at Yale, with Malan teaching, an arrangement apparently unprecedented in the rival schools' 318-year coexistence.
But far from being a dumbed-down sop to spoiled students, CS50 is a carefully crafted model of how to teach any subject in today's technological and social environment. It's extraordinarily demanding; by mid-semester, most students are spending over 12 hours a week on problem sets. If they need help, dozens of teaching assistants are available for in-person assistance 10 hours a week, far more than in traditional courses.
Students have called it a phenomenon, a spectacle, a cult, and a lifestyle.
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