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Tuesday, March 28, 2023 — Houston, TX

All is fair in love and code: COMP 310 faces potential removal

Guillian Paguila / Thresher

By Bonnie Zhao     1/31/23 11:22pm

COMP 310, a current major requirement course, is likely to be completely removed from the Rice computer Science curriculum, the class’s professor Stephen Wong said. This comes after numerous student complaints posted on Piazza last semester and raised to the computer science department Chair Christopher Jermaine.

According to Jermaine, a faculty working group is currently reviewing all major requirement courses and has not made a final decision for any courses.

“The reason for the effort is simply that it’s been quite some time since we’ve looked holistically at the [undergraduate] curriculum — we have to make sure the major serves our students well,” Jermaine wrote in an email to the Thresher. “We’d like to reduce the number of credit hours required for the degree, especially the [Bachelor of Science], to make it more in line with our peer institutions.”

Wong said he thinks COMP 310 is essential and should remain part of the curriculum because it’s the only course directly aimed at object oriented programming design that Bachelor of Arts students are required to take before graduating. 

“The question one has to ask is, how do courses that are ... more difficult than one expects ... fit into an overall curriculum and student experience?” Wong said. “How should curricular pedagogical decisions be made? On what basis? Personally, I look back at my college ...  and we dealt with things which I must admit, I didn’t appreciate until years out.”

Bri Bumgardner, the head teaching assistant for COMP 310, said she and the other TAs are currently collecting statements and signatures from former students to petition for the future of the class. 

“I don’t fault the department ... If you have this many complaints, then it’s going to reflect badly on the department,” Bumgardner said. “But the issue is, we’re not seeing the opinions of people who have [already] taken the class, or people who are enjoying the class and understand the benefits of the class.”

Andrew Buehler, a TA for COMP 310, said he feels the course is one of the most important classes in his Rice degree.

“[COMP 310] is the one where it truly clicked that I realized, this is why I’m a computer science major, this is what I’m interested in. And that’s why I’ve been [a TA],” Buehler, a Jones College junior, said. “I know people that went on to internships and use all of these techniques immediately.”

According to Buehler, COMP 310 was previously created to replace two separate computer science courses and that he would like to see COMP 310 become two separate courses again to spread out the material between the courses. 

“Dr. Wong had to cut material, he had to work with what he was given, find ways to make the course easier for students,” Buehler said. “There is a very even split of work for the first half and the second half of the semester. And you could split it right there. Give three weeks for every project. Everyone would be fine.”

Adam Tao, another COMP 310 TA, previously voiced his complaints about the course in a Thresher article last semester while he was a student in the class. Now, he said he believes that removing the course is taking it too far. 

“If it gets canceled ... I think it is a shame,” Tao, a Jones junior, said. “He puts in an ungodly amount of work into the course. There was one night before one of the projects was due, he literally stayed in his office the entire night. I think he just pulled an all-nighter in case anybody needed help.”

Clayton Ramsey, a Baker College senior double majoring in computer science and electrical engineering, said he took COMP 310 last fall and didn’t find the course to be useful for him.

“The approach to using Java and the technologies used [in the class] are all about 10 years out of date, just by a rough estimate,” Ramsey said. “One of the most notable examples I can think of is in the second half of the course, we use a framework called Java remote method invocation ... [which] is now officially deprecated. And we’re still using it seven or eight years after the fact.”

Chuk Uzowihe, a Hanszen College junior who also took COMP 310 last fall, said he was overwhelmed by the course’s heavy workload and felt like the materials he learned were mostly useless.

“The amount of stuff that we learned in terms of new programming techniques and ideas that were actually relevant were like, little to none,” Uzowihe said. “Dr. Wong basically spent a very long time talking about a few specific design patterns ... And oftentimes, they wouldn’t even really be that useful or that applicable outside of a few specific cases.”

Quang Nguyen, who took COMP 310 last fall, said that despite the course’s intense timeline and workload, he feels Wong has demonstrated willingness to adjust based on student feedback, as evidenced by him canceling this semester’s final project and offering extensions last semester.

“[COMP 310] was the most practical experience for me in terms of software development,” Nguyen, a Jones junior, said. “You get all these soft skills and practice through the class: doing things in time crunch, working with strangers in the class because we have random partners and just doing intensive stuff, working with vague documentations. I feel like those are very important skills that I think I wouldn’t have learned from any other class.”

Jermaine said that the faculty working group will almost certainly recommend changes to the computer science curriculum, but the recommendation is not final.

“They’ll need to be approved at multiple levels, including the university [committee on the undergraduate curriculum],” Jermaine said. “Even if the working group proposes, ‘let’s not require COMP XXX,’ such a proposal would have to make it through several levels of approvals.”

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