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 The Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs

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InstructorHolly Yanco and John Pezaris

Course Description | Lecture and Course Files | Student Evaluations

Quantitative Evaluation

  1. Lectures:
    • Clarity of lectures: 7.84
    • Organization of material: 7.28
    • Willingness to help: 8.24
  2. Recitations:
    • Clarity of recitations: 7.8
    • Organization of material: 8.32
    • Willingness to help: 8.12
  3. Teaching Assistants:
  4. Michael S Allen
    • Clarity of TA explanations: 7.63
    • TA patience: 7.67
    • TA willingness to help: 7.23
  5. Dimitri Kountourogiannis
    • Clarity of TA explanations: 8.48
    • TA patience: 9.0
    • TA willingness to help: 9.06
  6. Overall course:
    • Overall course rigor and challenge: 8.96
    • Course organization and design: 6.72
    • Clear relationship to curriculum: 8.6
  7. Administration:
    • Administrative friendliness: 8.56
    • Administrative responsiveness: 8.08

Qualitative Evaluation

Unlike month 0, month 1 at ArsDigita University was extremely challenging and intensive for the majority of the students. A great deal of material was covered and presented at a very high level. Although the course was rigorous it was uneven in its rigor, tending to be difficult at the beginning and slowing down at the end (probably due to some students being completely left behind).

The students were asked to evaluate not only on the program content but also the faculty and staff with whom they interacted.

Lectures (Holly Yanco)

There were not very many comments in this area.

However, a sample of students felt the following:

Lectures should have been more in-depth rather than sticking to the format and the material presented in the SICP book. If this is going to be the style of the lectures in this course, it would be better to read the chapters beforehand and discuss them in class.

Holly took some time to get settled. She improved as a lecturer significantly during the course of the month as she got more acquainted with the chemistry of the group. Like the first month, having lecture notes before the class was extremely helpful.

Recitations (John Pezaris)

Most of the students feel that the lecture/recitation format complements each other very well. However, the presentation of new material in the recitations for most students is overwhelming especially when the problem sets require a huge time commitment. This results in there being not much difference between lectures and recitations. The recitations should be used as a chance to develop a better understanding of material presented in the lecture rather than as a forum for new material.

John Pezaris is a great lecturer and every effort should be made to get him for another course. He was adept at picking up points from lecture that needed more coverage, as well as moving on from there to interesting applications. John's recitations offered the much-needed insight and perspective into the topics covered in the course. The students were impressed by the amount of time John spent at the university working on the course, though a few felt that he should have taken time to be available for questions in the computer lab area.

Problem Sets

Though some of the students found the problem sets to be lengthy, difficult and too many, but all of them agreed they were extremely challenging. They did a good job of clarifying the concepts presented in the lectures and preparing the students for the tests. Similar to month 0, the problem sets gave the students a lot of insight into the material and they learned the most from the problem sets.

However, everybody had problems with problem sets 2 and 7, which were way too long, difficult and required too much figuring out on your own. A general recommendation in this area was to hand out warm-up exercises before the problem sets, as an introduction to the topics in the problem sets. Also, solutions to the problem sets should be posted more promptly


The majority of the students felt that there was too much emphasis on grades and doing well on exams which had a negative impact on the class structure. It got extremely competitive. The better students seemed very reluctant to help those less able. This is against spirit of cooperation and collaboration on which ADU was founded. Also, displaying the class performance using histograms was counter-productive as it added to the pressure.


On the whole, the “Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs ”book by Gerry Sussman and Hal Abelson was felt to be essential and crucial to the course. The material presented in lectures and recitations made the book extremely readable. It was voted by most of the students as a great reference book which is not only well-written but goes into great depth about every topic it covers. An answer book to the exercises in SICP would have been beneficial. Some students found the course-work to be too consuming so as to prevent them from reading the text. Another set of students found the SICP book to be written for an audience that has quite a bit of exposure to math and computer science - certainly not the kind of book one you could pick up and understand without formal teaching. As one student commented \"as a starting book for someone doing a CS course for the first time, the book is daunting\".

Relation to Computer Science:

All the students were aware of the course's direct correlation to CS in general. They understood the vital role of the course in a CS curriculum. And most of them expect the concepts used in this course to resurface in subsequent courses.

Teaching Assistants (Mike and Dimitri)

According to the students, the TA's were excellent, and it would not be possible to do the program without their presence. Tutorials conducted by the TA's were extremely helpful though a few of them preferred the informal whiteboard lectures (given in month 0) to the formal ones. Dimitri was invaluable.

System Administration

The major area of discontent was the poor, slow and unreliable network connection. Also, the website (aduni.org) problems need to be addressed.

Most helpful staff

Holly and John, the course instructors were overall superb and put in a lot of hours teaching, organizing, creating handouts and problem sets and being responsive to people's needs. The support staff-Shai, Mike and Dimitri- were essential for providing morale and emotional support that many students needed.

Future changes to the course

OOP section of the course to be given more time and dealt more thoroughly.

Improve network connection and address website problems.

A day-off at the end of the course was highly appreciated and should be definitely retained.

More TA's needed for this course.

Solutions to problem sets and feedback to be more posted more promptly.

Recitations should be a chance to explore concepts previously presented in lecture rather than introducing new material.

Inclusion of \"warm-up exercises\" as an introduction to the topics to be covered in the problem sets.

Solutions to exercises in the SICP book to be made available if possible.

Reduce the focus on grades, as it is detrimental to the cooperative atmosphere of the academic environment.

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Site last updated: May 14, 2013
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