Introductory curriculum redesigned to better serve students

For decades, CS 302, Introduction to Programming, has been a rite of passage.  Though punch cards are long gone and programming languages have changed, the course was a consistent point of entry into the field for most computer science students.

Now that tradition is changing—for the better.  Beginning this fall, 302 is being replaced by a new introductory sequence that will give students different entry points based on their prior background.  Both students who are completely new to CS, and those coming in with high school coursework and possibly AP credit under their belts, should benefit.

“We’re changing our curriculum to better fit our students,” says Prof. Mike Swift (pictured at left), part of a team that worked on the curriculum changes.  A new 200-300-400 sequence will replace 302 and 367 (CS 367, Intro to Data Structures, will be offered two more times before it is phased out).

CS 200 serves students encountering CS for the first time, while 300 is paced correctly for students with prior knowledge. Structured and object-oriented programming are no longer introduced in a single course.  And CS 400, Programming III, will give students more “software carpentry” skills on larger projects that are necessary to do their best in higher-level courses.

As the department attracts a broader range of students across campus—not all of whom will become, or want to become, CS majors—separating 302 into 200 and 300 makes sense.  “By having advanced students jump into 300, 200 can be more focused on those who are brand new to programming,” says faculty associate Dr. Jim Williams (pictured at right) , who led the development of CS 200.

Experience at other campuses, such as Harvey Mudd College, bears out that grouping students by experience level helps them succeed and increases diversity.  “People don’t feel like other students know way more than they do.  And about 50% of Harvey Mudd CS undergraduates are women,” says Swift.

To bid a fond farewell to CS 302, Madison-area CS alumni gathered in June at the Fluno Center on campus.  A panel of alumni from different eras—Jay Jaeger (BS ’73, MS ’75), Deb Deppeler (MS ’00), and Mike Epley (BS ’10)—shared their memories of taking the course.  See photos from that gathering here.

Faculty associate Gary Dahl has also compiled a page with alumni memories of 302 over the years.

For more details about the new sequence and what each course covers, see Jim Williams’ slides from the Fluno Center event.

More broadly, the new course sequence is one of several efforts in the department to help all students succeed, such as the new Computer Sciences Learning Center and Wisconsin Emerging Scholars-Computer Sciences program.

As the new sequence gets off the ground with about 800 students taking CS 200 this fall, Swift, Williams and the rest of the curricular team are excited to see their work come to fruition and look forward to making further refinements as needed.