Spaces for computing science students appear to be opening up this year — while 900 students congested the department’s wait lists last Fall, this Fall has been halved to 431 students.
Last year, an over-enrollment in the Department of Computing Science 2015-16 prevented students from enrolling in senior and prerequisite courses required for graduation. New funding from the Faculty of Science has given this year’s programmers three new classes and more teaching staff to help earn credits for graduation.
The new resources have helped, but they probably aren’t enough to solve the “multi-faceted” problem all departments have following years of cuts to teaching, Paul Lu, the department’s Associate Chair (Undergraduate), said.
“For the past eight to 10 years, there have been a series of cutbacks,” Lu said. “They’re not necessarily huge, but a per cent, or two, or three. The cumulative effect has been to reduce the teaching assistants available to students.”
New resources have allowed the department to hire three new professors and about 10 new teaching assistants.
Large, senior-level courses have been added as well, including CMPUT 396 (Topics in Computing Science: Algorithmic problem solving) in the Fall semester and CMPUT 496 (Topics in Computing Science: Search, Knowledge, and Simulations) in the Winter semester. These classes can seat a minimum of 200 students, and don’t have labs.
Another new course, CMPUT 397 (Topics in Computing Science: Foundations of Information Retrieval) will have space for 60 students in the Winter semester. And an additional 60-seat section of CMPUT 300 (Computers and Society) has also been added to increase senior-level capacity.
These new spaces are intended to give students opportunities to attain senior-level credits needed for graduation. In computing science, general B.Sc. students need 12 credits at the 300 level to graduate. Specialization and honours students need 18 credits at the 300 level to graduate, with specialization and honours students requiring six and 12 credits at the 400 level, respectively.
Enrollments for computing science have risen considerably over the past few years: in 2011-12, a total of 3,332 students were registered in courses. In 2016-17, that number is estimated to be 4962 — an increase of more than one-third.
“It’s kind of like saying, if you had a house that can hold a certain number of roommates and you a third more people,” Lu said. “So, if you were sharing a house with six people, it’s like you now have eight people in the same-sized house.”
Last year, an unknown number of students on wait lists were unable to graduate because there weren’t enough seats in 300 and 400 level classes to give all students the credits they needed to graduate.
Similar increases have been seen at the University of British Columbia, which solved the problem by not allowing high school admissions to its computing science program. Places in the program there are limited, and can only be entered after a year of general science.
While demand for these courses appeared high, only 90 students enrolled in CMPUT 396 for the Fall semester, despite its capacity of 300. Lu said this may be because the class is new and students aren’t aware of it, or because students are choosing to hold out for specific senior classes.
Ryan Hayward, a computing science professor and the creator of CMPUT 396, said computing science courses without labs at the senior level aren’t common because learning requires the student to actively engage with the material.
“Unless you spend the hours in front of a terminal, implementing things, then it’s like you’ve been watching how to ride a bicycle instead of learning how to ride a bicycle,” Hayward said.
But across most departments at most universities, educators are having to deal with helping students learn better, but with fewer resources. The information students learn in large classes such as CMPUT 396 will be applicable and just as valid in the program, he said.
“As long as there are parts of your education where you can interact in small communities within larger classes, I think (the trend of having more classes with large sizes) is fine,” Hayward said.