A blurb for the new CSC 151
Topics/tags: [Editing](index-writing], teaching, CSC 151, digital humanities, things I had to write, long
In spring 2018, I’ll be teaching a new version of CSC 151, Grinnell’s introductory course in computer science that uses the Digital Humanities as its theme. This will be the third-and-a-half new version of the course that I’ve designed or helped design in my career. Why half? When I first taught the course, nearly two decades ago, I kept the structure of the course generally the same but made some significant changes to the course materials and to the pedagogy . A bit more than a decade ago, Janet Davis, Matthew Kluber, and I reworked the class to focus on the theme of image making. At the time, we planned that that would be the first of multiple
themes that we developed for the course so that students could choose a theme closer to their personal interests. But rewriting the whole course is a lot of work; after all, it’s a course in which we have a daily reading and lab . Last summer and fall, Titus Klinge, Sarah Dahlby Albright, and I developed a new version of the course that used the CS side of Data Science as the theme. And now I’m developing a third version .
The other day, I got a request from the Registrar’s office to provide a blurb for the new version of the course. I was tempted to reply that I am on a nine-month contract and am therefore unable to work during the summer . However, I do believe in collaborating with people across campus, particularly when the strange policies are not their fault. Hence, I’m attempting to write a blurb for the course. I’ll admit that it’s a bit strange to write a blurb for a course that I have not yet designed; after all, designing the course is my primary goal for the fall. I guess I’ll just need to do my best. A musing seems like the best place to draft the text.
What do the previous blurbs look like? Here’s the one for the image-based 151.
In this section of CSC 151, we will ground our study of functional problem solving in media computation. In particular, we will explore mechanisms for representing, making, and manipulating images. We will consider a variety of models of images based on pixels, basic shapes, and objects that draw. The course will be taught using a workshop style: In most class sessions, students will work collaboratively on a series of problems. Includes formal laboratory work.
Here’s the data science blurb, which I wrote last year.
In these sections of CSC 151, we will ground our study of functional problem solving in approaches related to the practice of data science. In particular, we will explore and develop algorithms and programs that gather, reorganize, filter, combine, analyze, and visualize both structured and unstructured data. The course employs a workshop format: In most class sessions, students will collaboratively explore a variety of problems and collections of data. Includes formal laboratory work.
Wow, I certainly have a style for these blurbs. It goes something like this .
In this section of CSC 151, we will ground our study of functional problem solving in approaches related to topic. In particular, we will activities. The course employs a workshop format: In most class sessions, students will collaborate on a variety of problems. Includes formal laboratory work.
That’s something I should be able to write relatively quickly. I might even be able to describe something that resembles what we’ll actually do. But what is it that we’ll do? I’m still trying to work that out. We’ll certainly consider ways to represent documents, probably focusing primarily on XML and HTML . I’m actually looking forward to that aspect since it gives a clear reason to consider trees. And I should certainly give them the opportunity to write one or two simple hypertexts. I find algorithms for language generation interesting. We are likely to use a grammar-based approach as well as a more statistical approach. However, from my perspective, the most important aspect of the digital humanities to consider is the algorithmic processing of texts as a starting point in the analysis of those texts. And, while I like thinking of that output in textual terms, I know that it is also useful to find ways to visualize what the algorithms
represent, create, analyze seem to be the core activities .
Here’s a start.
In this section of CSC 151, we will ground our study of functional problem solving in approaches related to the digital humanities, investigating ways in which computing changes the ways in which people write and analyze texts. In particular, we will consider models for representing texts, computation-based techniques for developing interactive texts, and algorithms and visualizations that help us explore and analyze texts. The course employs a workshop format: In most class sessions, students will collaborate on a variety of problems. Includes formal laboratory work.
But, well, that middle sentence isn’t really parallel. We have
models for representing,
techniques for developing, and
algorithms and visualizations that help. Two gerunds and something else. But I can’t bring myself to write
for exploring and analyzing since the algorithms should be used as a starting point for exploration and analysis, not for the exploration and analysis themselves. So I’m going to get rid of the gerunds. I also know from my reading of Williams that I should make actors explicit. Here’s the next try.
In particular, we will consider models that scholars use to represent texts, techniques that authors use to create interactive texts, and algorithms and visualizations that scholars use as they explore and analyze texts.
I don’t like the doubling of
scholars. I don’t like the repetition of
use. The latter seems easier to fix than the former. But perhaps I can fix both at once.
In particular, we will consider ways computers help us represent texts, create interactive texts, and explore and analyze individual texts and corpora.
But that loses the
visualization that I consider core to what we do. I’m also not sure how I feel about the repetition of the word
texts. Let’s try again.
In particular, we will examine models of documents, develop interactive narratives, and design algorithms and visualizations that help us explore and analyze corpora and individual texts.
Better. How do I feel about the three
ands in the last part? It’s a bit excessive, but probably acceptable. But
interactive narratives may not be completely accurate. At least in some cases, the idea is that we will fill in information computed from elsewhere. That’s not so much
dynamic. Yeah, that’s a better word. How does it feel when I put everything back together?
In this section of CSC 151, we will ground our study of functional problem solving in approaches related to the digital humanities, investigating ways in which computing changes the ways in which people write and analyze texts. In particular, we will examine models of documents, develop dynamic narratives, and design algorithms and visualizations that help us explore and analyze corpora and individual texts. The course employs a workshop format: In most class sessions, students will collaborate on a variety of problems. Includes formal laboratory work.
What are the primary verbs? Ground. Study. Investigate. Change. Write. Analyze. Examine. Develop. Design. Explore. Analyze. Employ. Collaborate. It appears that I’ve only duplicated
analyze. I know that there’s some benefit in repetition, but this seems to be a case in which less repetition is better.
What does Grammarly say? It tells me to hyphenate
problem solving. I don’t think that’s necessary. It tells me that if I pay for the upgrade, it will tell me about one wordy sentence. I’m pretty sure I know which sentence is wordy, and I’m comfortable with it. It tells me that it will take someone 20 seconds to read it or 39 seconds to speak it. It ranks me relatively low on readability, noting that
Your text is likely to be understood by a reader who has at least some college education, but it may not be easy to read. Yeah, I’m okay with that.
Of course, it’s not clear that anyone actually reads these blurbs . It may not be perfect, but it’s probably close enough for now. I’ll call myself done.
Is this the last
new version of CSC 151 that I’m designing? Almost certainly not. Many aspects of the image-based CSC 151 were quite successful and I’d like to bring it back. Unfortunately, the most difficult issue in the course was the interaction with GIMP, which, while exciting, made it hard for students to run the software on their own computers . In addition, it appears that we did not fully understand all of the issues associated with writing C-based libraries for DrRacket and the system crashed once in a while, usually at the least opportune time. Hence, I’d like to rewrite the course to use DrRacket’s own image system, which has evolved a lot since we first designed the course. Of course, after I rewrite the course, I’ll also need to rewrite the blurb.
Postscript: I’ve reported on what Grammarly says about the blurb. What does it say about this whole document? We’ll just consider some of the highlights . Grammarly identified many more times that I used
problem solving instead of
problem-solving. It thinks that
a musing is really
amusing. Most of the remaining comments are comparatively minor.
Let’s do some head-to-head comparisons. The blurb has a rank of 92. The musing has a rank of 87. Of course, I have no idea what
rank means. The blurb takes twenty seconds to read. The musing takes eight minutes and forty-four seconds. The blurb requires a college education to read. The musing
is likely to be understood by a reader who has at least an 8th-grade education (age 13-14) and should be fairly easy for most adults to read. The blurb had one premium recommendation about a wordy sentence. The musing has fifty-seven additional issues, including thirty-one instances of word choice, thirteen wordy sentences, two instances of weak or uncertain language, two incomplete sentences, two inappropriate colloquialisms, two misuses of semicolons or quotation marks, and more [12,14,15].
 Among other things, I split the readings from the labs and instituted take-home exams instead of in-class exams.
 At the time, the course met four days per week. So we wrote close to fifty readings/labs.
 Better yet, I have a fellowship that will give me the time to develop a new version.
 My understanding is that I would have to give that reply if I were receiving external funding for the summer. More on that issue in another musing.
 I could not resist editing a little bit.
 I wanted to write
seem to be the trifecta or
seem to be thetriumvirate". But neither is really the right word. Perhaps it will come to me later.
 It used to be that they appeared in the printed schedule of classes. I’m not sure if they still do, but few people receive the printed schedule. The blurbs do appear in Web Advisor/Self Service. However, they appear as a bit of a mess.
 We did come up with solutions, but they generally involved either installing a virtual machine or installing an X-windows client.
 Or lowlights, as it were.
 I was interested to see that the summary of premium issues changes over time. I wonder why.
 The next time Grammarly has a sale on premium, I’ll consider paying for it so that I can laugh at the suggestions and ask for corrections on some of the incorrect ones. More seriously, though, I use Grammarly enough for a
quick check that it’s probably worth paying the $75/year that it’s sometimes on sale for.
 Do you know how hard it is to get a fixed point with Grammarly? Each time I change something, I need to run it through to get a new report. The time to read changes. I change it again. The time changes. Then I’m inspired to write something new . The time changes again. And so on and so forth .
 Such as these last few endnotes.
 How’s that for a colloquialism, Grammarly?
Version 1.0 of 2018-08-06.