MIT: The Missing Semester of Your CS Education

Why we are teaching this class

During a traditional Computer Science education, chances are you will take plenty of classes that teach you advanced topics within CS, everything from Operating Systems to Programming Languages to Machine Learning. But at many institutions there is one essential topic that is rarely covered and is instead left for students to pick up on their own: computing ecosystem literacy.

Over the years, we have helped teach several classes at MIT, and over and over we have seen that many students have limited knowledge of the tools available to them. Computers were built to automate manual tasks, yet students often perform repetitive tasks by hand or fail to take full advantage of powerful tools such as version control and text editors. In the best case, this results in inefficiencies and wasted time; in the worst case, it results in issues like data loss or inability to complete certain tasks.

These topics are not taught as part of the university curriculum: students are never shown how to use these tools, or at least not how to use them efficiently, and thus waste time and effort on tasks that should be simple. The standard CS curriculum is missing critical topics about the computing ecosystem that could make students’ lives significantly easier.

The missing semester of your CS education

To help remedy this, we are running a class that covers all the topics we consider crucial to be an effective computer scientist and programmer. The class is pragmatic and practical, and it provides hands-on introductions to tools and techniques that you can immediately apply in a wide variety of situations you will encounter. The class is being run during MIT’s “Independent Activities Period” in January 2020 — a one-month semester that features shorter student-run classes. While the lectures themselves are only available to MIT students, we will provide all lecture materials along with video recordings of lectures to the public.


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