This AFQ (Anticipated Frequent Questions) should cover most of your questions. Please only ask questions after you’ve read the document below and not found a response to your query.
Q: Will the professor remain the same throughout the semester?
No. Stevie Strickland will teach the first half of the course, and Shriram Krishnamurthi the second half.
Q: Will this cause a disruption?
We don’t think so! Stevie has taught a very similar course before at Northeastern. He has also taught the follow-on course (CSCI 2730) at Brown. Therefore, we think we’ll have a fairly seamless transition between the two instructors.
Q: I hear rumors of a new format for the second half. What is it?
Programming languages is a lively topic. While this is evident from the numerous languages being released all the time, most of these do not reflect research advances: they’re often new implementations of old ideas. Therefore, it can be hard for students to see programming languages as a vibrant research topic that is pushing into a variety of new areas, some more theoretical and some more applied. Eventually many of these ideas will hit the mainstream (just as today’s mainstream was novel ten, twenty, or even thirty years ago), but wouldn’t it be more fun to hear about them now?
The best way to introduce these topics is to let students hear about them from their very creators. Therefore, we’re scheduling four active researchers to visit Brown and speak about exciting things they’ve worked on or are working on that have the potential to become widespread. In the second half of the course, almost every Friday, we will have a different speaker come talk about something. Their talks will be specifically designed for an undergraduate audience. As a bonus, most of them will also stick around to give a traditional research colloquium after class (to which you’re invited, but of course not required, to come), so you can see for yourself the delta between undergraduate and research content in the area.
Most of all, we will be using the preceding part of that week to prepare you for the presentation you will hear, covering the background material the speakers are expecting you to know.
Q: Have you done this before?
No. It’s an experiment. In fact, we don’t know of a course anywhere else, either, that does something exactly like this.
Of course, we’ve put a lot of thought into this and think we understand the benefits and pitfalls. We therefore think it’ll go well. We’re pretty confident that even if it doesn’t go exactly to plan, you will learn enough from it that it’ll have been worth the while.
However, as with all experiments, some things might not go exactly to plan. We want your thoughts and will take your feedback very seriously. But please do be a bit patient as we work it out.
Q: Can you make me feel good about participating in an experiment?
Sure. You’re at a research university, not an undergrad-only liberal arts college. We constantly innovate in both research and education. Some attempts at innovation fail. Others, after a few tries, become wildly successful, and are adopted later by many other institutions—
You’re also in one of the fastest-moving, most exciting disciplines in the world. Your book knowledge will soon be obsolete, and you may not even realize it. We have an obligation to prepare you for this milieu. This is one of the ways we try to accomplish that.
Q: Who are the guest speakers?
Q: Aren’t they all from the local region?
Yeah! Cheap dates!
Okay, seriously. Yes, they are. But don’t worry: the geography isn’t restricting quality. The greater Boston area has one of the world’s very best collections of people doing research in programming languages: we could do several years of this without hurting quality or repeating speakers! It’s a pity that we haven’t been exploiting our hinterland more, and this is an opportunity to fix that.
Q: I have a question not answered above! Where do I send it?
A: Address it to the primary professor.