Problem Solving and Computing (CSC-103 98S)

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Responses to surveys

These are my responses to the questions or comments you asked on the introductory survey. You may also want to look at similar responses for the other classes that I'm teaching this term: CS152 and CS302.

How and why do you devote enough time to create this myriad of easy-to-navigate pages?

(Thanks for the compliment.) Why? Because I hope that the pages will help you learn; because it helps me organize and keep track of the course (if you look in my office, you'll understand why the only stuff I can keep track of is on the computer); because I want to save paper (given the amount that gathers in my office); because I can ocassionally use the course webs as a research tool; and because I'm strange enough to enjoy creating webs (and tools for creating webs). How? Because I type quickly and have developed tools that make web creation even quicker. I also spend a lot of time working on my courses.

I fear math and/or computing.

Well, those are some of the things we hope to work on in this course. When something comes up that frightens, irritates, or confuses you, come talk to me about it and I'll help you work through it. (If it's any comfort, there are certainly parts of math and cs that I'm intimidated by and prefer not to approach.)

Why did you choose computer programming as your livelihood?

I didn't. I choose academia: teaching a research are my livelihoods. Somewhere else in this set of answers are my notes as to why I chose computer science.

What are the significance and application of computer science for the "real world"? Is CS just something else to develop thinking skills, like many other liberal arts?

Yes, CS is clearly a means of developing your thinking skills (as is this class). At the same time, the computer is a tool that you will be able to use (hopefully) in both your work and your play. We'll talk about building web pages, computing useful values, and many other things that you will find practical. We will also attempt to use these "practical things" as the basis of developing problem solving and thinking sills (and vice versa).

What is your grading scale?

Numerically, my grading scale is fairly pure. 94 and up is an A. 90-93 is an A-. 87-89 is a B+, and so on and so forth. Philosophically, B is the standard grade for "came to class, tried to do the work, usually succeeded, seemed to understand the material". A is exceptional; usually this means that you showed significantly more understanding than the typical student or that you found other ways to demonstrate exceptional work in the class (e.g., did extra work, provided particularly interesting answers, etc.).

I'm concerned that I won't grasp the concepts.

I'm here to make sure that you do. If you don't feel like your grasping a concept in class, come talk to me about it. I'll do my best to find a way to help you grasp it.

Why computer science?

I assume that's "Why did you choose computer science?" Surprisingly, because I like solving problems, and computer science seemed to be a field that emphasized problem solving. I was a math major in college, since that's what I thought math was (and it is indeed what math is), but I appreciated being to be able to do more concrete problem solving in CS and to develop solutions that "worked".

I'm concerned that the project will be overwhelming.

My intent is that the project be fun, rather than overwhelming. That's why I'm allowing you to pick a topic and encouraging you to work with other students. I will also be there to give you lots of support (or at least as much as I can give).

Where are you from?

I was born in Boston, MA. I grew up in Newton, MA. I spent ages 1-3 in Holland, but remember no Dutch (and not much else from that time). I spent about ten years (1982-1993) going to school in Chicago. I spent the next few years in New Hampshire and Maine. During that time I taught at Dartmouth and visited my wife in Maine (our jobs required living apart; not something I'd recommend). I came to Grinnell in the fall of 1997.

What school did you go to?

I got my bachelor's degree (in mathematics), my master's degree (in computer science) and my Ph.D. (in computer science) from the University of Chicago. That was probably too much time to spend at one place, but I really enjoyed it there.

How did you end up at Grinnell?

Some time ago, I decided that I wanted to make teaching my profession because I really enjoy teaching (and usually seem to do a good job). When I was last on the job market, I looked for a school that cared a lot about teaching and that valued research on computers in education. Grinnell fit the bill. It also helped that the students who interviewed me were the best students I met on my interview tour and that I got along well with the department.

Do you like it here?

Yes, very much so. I'd like to have a slightly lower teaching load and to have somewhat better computing infrastructure (and a little less confusion about what's happening between the trustees and the school), but it's all that I expected of and hoped for in a school.

I'm concerned that I'll get stuck on problems and get very frustrated from being stuck.

That's one of the reasons I'm suggested that you work in groups. If you get stuck, it's likely that someone else will have an idea that will get you unstuck. We'll also spend a lot of time working on ways to get unstuck. Finally, you shouldn't get frustrated if you can't solve a problem; there are always problems we can't solve.

Are you married? Do you have any children?

Yes, I'm married to a wonderful woman, Michelle. We've been married for a little over ten years. We have one son, William, who is now about two-and-a-half. We're expecting another in August. Michelle is a family physician, and is starting her practice in town in March.

What motivates you to be a professor?

I find teaching to be intellectual stimulating and challenging, and I enjoy being intellectually stimulated and challenged. I derive a strong sense of accomplishment from figuring out how to explain a complex topic, helping a student learn something new, or changing someone's perspective. I also enjoy doing research, particularly on computers in education and on computer science education. It probably helps that my mother was a professor and clearly derived a lot of joy from what she did.

Do you have any pets?

We have one cat, Flicker. Flicker is an orange tabby, and we've had him for about ten years.

What do you do when you aren't teaching

Professionally, I do research on multimedia in computation and hypermedia in education and build tools to make it easier to build webs. Personally, I spend time with my family and spend too much time, money, and energy collecting records. I also spend time trying to figure out how to organize my office.

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Disclaimer Often, these pages were created "on the fly" with little, if any, proofreading. Any or all of the information on the pages may be incorrect. Please contact me if you notice errors.

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