Compilers (CSC-362 98F)


Comments on the Initial Debates

Let me begin by noting that these initial debates were far from an easy task. You were often debating issues that you did not know a lot about (e.g., some of you who were arguing for C did not know C) and you did not have a lot of time to prepare. However, you will find that this is often the case in design discussions: you will need to develop and present opinions about subjects with which you have little background. And you will need to do it quickly!

Evaluation forms

In general, the evaluation forms were a failure. Because you had so much evaluation to do, it seems that most of you did not do well-reasoned evaluations of each other. Some of you failed to turn in evaluations (boo!) and few of you wrote any useful comments. There was also significant variation in ratings (e.g., there were times when the same person received both a 1 and a 5 for the same characteristic). You folks are also much too easy graders. For example, someone who has little supporting evidence for his or her claim, and does not use most of the time allocated should not receive a score higher than a 3 for preparation (and probably shouldn't even receive a 3).

In the future, I will only do team evaluations, but leave space for comments on individuals. You should still pay attention to the things we were evaluating (e.g., preparation, supporting evidence, role of presentation within the group).

Strengths

I was particularly impressed by your rebuttals. In general, you found reasonable points to rebut and developed appropriate rebuttals. You generally chose to rebut the reasonable points, as opposed to the ones that were clearly incorrect or inaccurate.

Particularly in the case of the second debate, I saw groups working together, discussing possible perspectives and (I hope) organizing the overall structure of the debate.

I saw some improvement from the first debate to the second debate. It seems to me that this was less an issue of ability of debaters and more that you folks learned quickly from observation. The first day's debaters were under some disadvantage in that they didn't have anything to base their work on.

I was happy to see that most of you focused on the real purpose of these debates (to inform ourselves about the issues) rather than some less appropriate measure of success (e.g., getting more people to believe your side, even when you didn't believe it).

Weaknesses

Most of you made very poor use of your time. This was evidenced by the fact that so few of you used the full time allotted to you. I'm not sure whether this was because you didn't rehearse your presentations or because you didn't do enough gathering of supporting evidence. In the future, I expect to see you using the full time, and using it well.

How do you use time well? In general, you find more evidence to support your claim. A claim is not evidence. Evidence requires relying on external sources. You might run experiments and summarize the results. For example, ``I asked two upper-level CS students who knew both Java and C to write the following program in both languages, one writing the C version first, one writing the Java version first. I recorded some information which shows whatever.'' (This is not a full experiment that you would write up, but should provide supporting evidence in a debate.) You might look for information on the web or elsewhere. For example, you might say ``In a 1995 paper published in Communications of the ACM, Dr. X reports that 95% of the errors in a typical upper-level CS course using C are due to errors with memory or pointers.'' You might even synthesize information from what you've found. For example ``I looked at the cool jobs web, and read the job requirements of all the jobs listed. 15% required C. 5% required Java. 80% required `an appropriate background in computing'. This suggests ...''

You also need to rehearse. One of you read a prepared speech. That is certainly an acceptable and appropriate way to rehearse. Others of you may be more comfortable with notes, but you should still give your speech at least once, preferably to your teammates.

Many of you used terms that not everyone was familiar with. Some of you even used them incorrectly. You should be careful to define your terms. For example, ``simple language'' was used in a variety of ways, sometimes to mean ``less powerful''.

There was some repetition between presentations within the same team. You should be careful not to repeat ideas. Each person should focus on no more than two ideas (and possibly one).

There were a few comments that were absurd or insulting. Try to stick to the facts, and make sure that they're facts you believe. [You may not believe in the side you're arguing for, but you should believe that your argument is a correct one.]


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