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 Mathematics for Computer Science

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InstructorTara Holm

Course Description | Lecture and Course Files | Student Evaluations

Quantitative Evaluation:

  1. Lectures:
    • Clarity of lectures: 7.87
    • Organization of material: 8.23
    • Willingness to help: 9.44
  2. Recitations:
    • Clarity of recitations: 8.66
    • Organization of material: 8.16
    • Willingness to help: 9.53
  3. Teaching Assistants:
    • Clarity of TA explanations: 7.93
    • TA patience: 8.43
    • TA willingness to help: 9.21
  4. Overall course:
    • Overall course rigor and challenge: 7.72
    • Course organization and design: 7.98
    • Clear relationship to curriculum: 7.67
  5. Administration:
    • Administrative friendliness: 9.12
    • Administrative responsiveness: 8.39

Qualitative Evaluation:

On the whole, the first month of ArsDigita University has been quite successful. A great deal of material was covered in the first three and a half weeks.  The content is equivalent to most of the material in two courses at MIT (18.001 and 18.006).  The students feel that ADU is a collaborative, supportive and noncompetitive environment.

The students were asked to evaluate not only on the program content but also the faculty and staff with whom they interacted.

Lectures (Tara):

Overall the lectures were very clear.  Tara effectively met the challenge of teaching an audience with an extremely wide range of mathematical sophistication (we have Ph.D’s in engineering and students who last saw math at age 15 in high school). Most of the students agree that Tara did a fine job of presenting the material. She not only laid out the material in an organized fashion but she was also very receptive to questions and provided helpful and responsive answers.

The only common suggestion is that Tara should provide a more clear and careful overview of where each lecture is heading, and where each lecture fits into the whole course.  Many students complained that they were occasionally disoriented by this omission.

Having the lecture notes was very helpful since it reduced note taking considerably. Printing out lecture notes and distributing them to students was a good idea.

Tara’s ad-hoc review sessions towards the end were very helpful and highly appreciated. Perhaps something like this could be integrated into the curriculum regularly.

Recitations (Shai):

Most of the students feel that the lecture/recitation format as it is envisioned is sound.  They liked the change from Tara to Shai.  Shai’s informal recitations were useful, not only for addressing questions, but also for introducing interesting applications of the material.  The recitations were enjoyed by most of the students for their informality and their interactivity.

Problem Sets:

Regarding problem sets, the general impression was that they were more difficult than the exams. They were hard, they required a lot of conceptual exploration, and they encouraged explaining things back and forth. They were challenging enough that people who had already some understanding of the subject had to think in order to finish them, but were not so challenging that the beginners had no hope of finishing.

According to one of the student “the problem sets were the definite highlight of the course”.


The exams were a little bit on the easy side conceptually and did little to distinguish the top students.  This is partly because many of our students have studied this material at the college level before.  None of the students who were seeing this material for the first time, had this particular complaint.

A large percentage of students recommended more word problems to be on the exams, since they require the ability to decode a problem.   This feedback was available early and was implemented even this year in the later stages of the course, especially in Linear Algebra.  We plan to implement this change throughout the course next year.


The “Quick Calculus” book by Daniel Kleppner and Norman Ramsey was well received, but the “Matrices and Transformation” by Petfrezzo was unanimously criticized.   In particular, it was missing treatment of certain topics completely, and it was too detailed in other places.  They did find the reference text, “Introduction to Linear Algebra” by Gilbert Strang, to be valuable, but Strang is too theoretical for our treatment. 

Relation to Computer Science:

Most of the students were not sure how Calculus fits into computer science. To them, it just seemed merely a traditional prerequisite to any kind of engineering discipline. They felt that Linear Algebra was more directly correlated with computer science.

Teaching Assistants (Mike, Dimitri, Ben and Rif):

According to the students, the TA’s were excellent, and often conducted mini-lectures to re-explain lecture and section material. So helpful were those lessons that the class now has a calculus and linear algebra toolkit that includes things with names like “Dimitri’s Method” and “Rif’s Explanation”.

System Administration:

It was generally felt that though the computer support was adequate for the math class (which was all done on paper), but this level of computer support will definitely be inadequate for next month’s curriculum.

The network works very poorly if at all, the workstations are subject to random failures, computers often fail to boot properly, and students have no access to their machines to install favorite programs, or indeed simply to tinker as students of computer science are wont to do.

A major demand on the part of the students is to have on-site email accounts (arsdigita email accounts).

Most helpful staff:

Though the entire teaching staff was stellar, Dimitri and Ryan were singled out as exceptionally helpful teaching fellows and received major thumbs up.

Future changes to the course:

There should be more exploration of the concepts such as differential equations, linear programming and game theory.

The most important improvement would be to replace the unhelpful Pettofrezzo book.

A general suggestion was that the pace of calculus section could be picked up a bit, in order to have more time to explore applications of linear algebra.

There should be more evening tutorials for those who need a bit more grounding on fundamentals. The informal atmosphere of small TA-led recitations would be useful for students feeling left behind.

Rather than putting up hints directly on the exam, the exam could be set up so that a student could ask for the hint and lose some portion of the credit.

The schedule of when teachers and TA’s will be in should be made available to the students. The reason is that certain TA’s have been able to explain different types of questions.

Some more optional practice sets which are not graded for students who had the time and inclination.

One relatively hard problem could be included at the end of each set (for extra credit).

A more concise syllabus with readings and topics listed in advance. Being able to pre-read can be a great aid in not getting lost during the lecture.

Some kind of “math vocabulary, terminology and symbolism” handout would be useful.

Problem set solutions to be posted more promptly.

Use of Matlab which would lead to less time spent in mechanical manipulations in linear algebra and more time in problem solving.

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Site last updated: May 14, 2013
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