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University News

Spike in CS enrollment stretches resources

Students in introductory courses have been frustrated by a lack of TA accessibility

Contributing Writer
Friday, November 8, 2013

Recent enrollment surges in computer science courses have put a strain on department resources, resulting in teaching assistant shortages and insufficient computing space, students said.

Introductory courses such as CSCI 0150: “Introduction to Object-Oriented Programming and Computer Science” and CSCI 0170: “Computer Science: An Integrated Introduction,” which are currently enrolled with 266 students and 167 students, respectively, have experienced a thinning of available resources, some students said.

This year, CS15 moved temporarily from its usual location in MacMillan 117 to the more spacious Salomon 101, before returning to MacMillan this week.

Enrollment increases have resulted in a lack of available computing space — which students use to complete assignments — and reduced accessibility of the undergraduate teaching assistants, a central component of Brown’s computer science program.

“We consider the UTA program to be extremely important,” said Thomas Doeppner, vice chair of the department and director of undergraduate studies. “Roughly 60 percent of undergrads are TA’s at least once.”

The two main computing areas are the Sunlab and the MSLab, which have about 80 computer work stations total, said Mackenzie Clark ’14, a leader of the Computer Science Departmental Undergraduate Group.

“You could in theory do the work remotely on your computer, but it is a huge inconvenience, especially for students new to the department,” Clark said. Having a large number of people share the computers at once slows down processing speed, she added.

The growth in enrollment has also spurred a shortage of TAs, especially for introductory classes. Traditionally, the department has maintained a ratio of 10 students per TA. Each TA is available for 2 hours per week, and the demand for TA hours often spikes as project deadlines draw closer, Clark said.

Due to time constraints, each student can only spend roughly 15 minutes with a TA at a time, said Aisha Ferrazares ’14, one of two Meta TAs who oversee the UTA program.

Despite time restrictions, students often must wait a significant amount of time to see a TA during office hours.

“I’ve waited three or four hours to talk to a TA, despite there being 30 TAs, which is ridiculous and shouldn’t happen,” said Ruby Goldberg ’17, a student in CS15.

“The intro classes clearly do not have enough TAs,” Clark said.

And while the number of TAs has increased, there is a lack of room availability to hold office hours.

“TAs want to hold extra hours, but we are unable to accommodate them,” said Eric Caruso ’14, the other Meta TA.

Increased enrollment has generated new budgetary concerns, as the department looks to find money to pay for new TAs.

“As enrollments have increased, the TA budget has not,” Caruso said.

The department has recognized the strain on resources and is working to address them, Doeppner said.

Within the next 15 months, Computing and Information Services will move out of the first and second floors of the Watson Center for Information Technology, which will make space for 30 to 50 new computers and additional workspace, Doeppner said.

If the program continues to grow at the current rate, it may exceed the capacity of the CIT within the next five to 10 years, he added.

In order to lighten the load on departmental resources, some students have requested that CS15 and CS17 also be offered in the spring. But the faculty members for these classes only teach in the fall, so the department would have to find new course instructors for the spring, Clark said.

The computer science department has also crafted a new introductory course, CSCI 0080: “A First Byte of Computer Science,” which will be offered this spring. This new course could help reduce overall enrollment in CS15 and CS17 and help students decide if they want to pursue computer science, Clark said.

The surge in enrollment has boosted the proportion of women in computer science classes, providing more gender parity in a historically imbalanced field. The department is now made up of about 25 percent women, Doeppner said. “We are proactive about trying to get more women into the program.”

“There seems to be a lot more women in the department, especially in the intro classes,” Clark agreed.

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  1. Chris Paxson, here is another example of how you are not doing your job.

  2. Even developed countries are struggling to get teachers to teach students. Its weird.

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