My First Week of My Class

by Ming Chow

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Back in December, I announced that I am teaching a course entitled "Security, Privacy, and Politics in the Computer Age" offered by the Experimental College at Tufts University. The course is open to all Tufts undergraduate students, regardless of area of study. This coming week will be my second full week of class. Here are a few news and notes about my experiences so far:

  • I am exceptionally pleased with how things are going. The students and the responses that I have received are tremendous.

  • I was very worried in my first day of class about enrollment –only six students showed up. An Experimental College class must have a minimum of eight students or else it will be canceled. The following week, 15 students showed up and officially registered for my class, which was tremendous. One of the problems was because many students did not return to campus for the first day of classes. Another major factor for the significant increase of students is word-of-mouth advertisement. What a difference a week makes!

  • Many students were afraid that my course would be too technical or "that you needed to be good with computers." Of course, that is not the premise of my class, and I alleviated all student's fears by saying that outright in class.

  • There are only a few students that have some technical knowledge, which works to my advantage, considering that was the intended audience for my course. Many students are majoring in a humanity or a social science (e.g. English, Psychology, Economics, International Relations).

  • Students said they were interested in my course because "they want to know more about computers" and many also recognized that computer security threats are growing.

  • I asked a series of entertaining and preliminary questions to the class. See news item 0004 on the News section of my course website. In short, all students have used Windows and Macs. Only a handful (about 5) students have worked with UNIX or Linux. All students have received a computer virus or some kind of malware in their lifetime. Finally, all students have different personal privacy preferences.

  • My first full lecture was on the basic software development life-cycle. I had a very engaging activity in class where I divided the class into two groups (developers and Quality Assurance) and one CEO. I spoke very little about programming and programming languages, but it seems that the students have a good idea on the software development methodology.

  • My last lecture was a bit more subtle. I discussed proprietary vs. free vs. open source software. One problem I encountered is that many students were not aware of open source software and "what does it mean." Many students said they were accustomed to popular packages such as Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Office, and AOL Instant Messenger, and many did not know that there were alternatives to those popular packages. Many students initially did not even know what source code was.

  • I have already assigned some homework. My homeworks are very straight forward. I have already graded my first set of homework, and I was very pleased with what the students did. See my first homework assignment on the Assignments section of my course website. In general, many students were honest with their answers (e.g. they didn't write things that they didn't know), and they used their common sense.