How good is my course plan?

A little while ago, I made a blog post about choosing my E:C major. Now, I get to think about E:C majors in a whole new light.

Here at Insper, one of the projects that myself and Adam ('16) have taken on is evaluating and revising the Insper Computer Engineering curriculum. Insper is different from Olin in that, due to Brazilian bureaucracy requirements, they must have a defined course plan for a given major. That means that the students don't have too much choice in their core computing classes, but they also don't have much choice in when to take those classes. Each semester offers four to five pre-defined classes, sometimes with space for an AHS elective.

Although the students don't get a lot of choice in what classes they take, they still get autonomy within classes on choosing projects, so that's okay. But that gives Adam and me a unique chance to design a curriculum and be very deliberate about selecting which classes will go in which semesters and why. We can apply educational theories like spiral learning and theories of motivation to justify our proposed changes to the course plan, and it's a lot of fun.

But the whole thing has gotten me thinking about defining my own course plan at Olin. Adam and I have worked with Insper to identify eighteen "disciplines", or subsets of competencies that get developed through classes. They're either technical disciplines, like "human-computer interaction" or "programming", or non-technical disciplines like "teamwork", "written and oral communication", or "product development". We made a Python script to generate heatmaps for different course plans, to see where disciplines got developed across the semesters in order to make sure the curriculum was well-balanced.

So, while thinking about all this for Insper, I started wondering if my own course plan for Olin was well-balanced and met all the criteria we developed for a Good Curriculum.  Just for fun, I made a heatmap of my own planned courses through Olin. Everything past semester 5 is a total guess, but this will be the general layout of Anne's Journey Through E:C. (Before you ask, the empty 4th semester is the LOA!).  The darker the square, the more classes in that semester that cover that discipline.


Not bad.  The non-technical disciplines have a nice spread and don't fade away as semesters go on, which is good. Some of the Insper's technical disciplines, like "memory and storage" or "networks and connections" don't translate very well to Olin's curriculum and classes, so they don't look very strong in this diagram.

But the point of this post wasn't for you to look at my (mega-cool) course plan. Planning a curriculum for someone else made me think harder about my own classes. Since I have to pick the timing of classes for myself, I have to think for myself whether it will make sense in the context of classes I've previously taken, and and do all that for myself. Making the heatmap helped me see my own course plan and evaluate for myself.

So, that's the point - encouraging you to really think about the classes you plan to take and what you plan to learn in them. At Olin, we have a lot of really cool classes, but I never thought too much about how they fit together within or between semesters, beyond the required prerequisites and stuff, but it's never a bad time to consider which classes you take and why.

Posted in: Anne '17