CS50 is Harvard’s introductory computer science course that has become hugely popular across the world as the exemplar of both an introduction to the subject at the college level as well as an outstanding blended learning product. Their new venture, CS50 AP, is a version of the course adapted to the new AP Computer Science principles curriculum which will begin testing in the 2016-2017 school year. I was fortunate enough to attend their bootcamp from 8/5-8/7. The bootcamp’s purpose was to explore implementing the course at the HS level and to get a closer look at the CS50 phenomenon.
Aside from access to the course’s curriculum and resources, which are extensive, there were a number of key takeaways from the bootcamp. Most importantly was a detailed look at the infrastructure behind the most successful blended learning course today. The instructor, David Malan, has a tremendous staff: around 100 people, on top of resources the course procures from third parties. Much of this staff is put towards actually teaching the course: there are around 70 people who run recitations, conduct office hours, and host walkthrough sessions. The other 30 can be classified as marketing people, including a full-fledged video production team and a print designer. The result is that this course not only has a tremendous teaching staff, but marketing materials equivalent to a medium sized company. Seeing it in person was overwhelming and quite different, but the results are hard to argue with as it currently enrolls around 40% of Harvard and several thousand others through edX.
Another key takeaway lies in the course’s three trademark events: Puzzle Day, CS50 Hackathon, and CS50 Fair. The first, Puzzle Day, is a first-week activity in which the whole course is invited to come and solve word puzzles. The goal is to foster problem solving and also for students to get to know each other. I think this will be fun to do with jigsaw puzzles, since high school students learn a lot more by touching things and it will accomplish the same goal. The second, the Hackathon, is something that would be logistically impossible to pull off in high school, as it is an overnight coding challenge from Friday-Saturday held in the Harvard library. The third and most interesting, the CS50 Fair, is the end of year showcase of student final projects from the course, in which the whole university is invited to attend. It’s a great event to replicate at the HS, or better yet, have students attend either at Harvard or remotely.