I’ve been having a blast over the last couple of weeks on the commute into work revisiting my formative student years. No, I’ve not grown my hair long, stopped showering on a daily basis and started sleeping in until noon… In actual fact, I’ve been discovering the delights of the undergraduate CS curriculum at the University of California, Berkeley, perhaps one of the top three universities in the world for Computer Science. They’ve started to webcast an ever-increasing number of courses online in both video and audio form, covering both the arts and the sciences.
To my shock, it’s been nearly fifteen years since I began my own undergraduate studies at a university that, while well-regarded in the UK, has nothing like the reputation of UCB. It’s fascinating to see both how another university teaches the same course as well as how the discipline has changed over the last decade and a half (surprisingly little, it turns out). It’s an often quoted maxim that education is wasted on the young, and having spent a number of years as a practitioner of the subject, it’s enjoyable to go back to one’s roots and pay attention to all the lectures that didn’t seem relevant when I was a student.
I like the way that Berkeley introduces programming through the use of Scheme rather than a more mainstream language like C++, Java or even C#. If you haven’t come across Scheme before, it’s a functional language based on Lisp that is great for forcing you to take a more algorithmic approach to the code you write. I’m not sure I would want to use it for a large-scale project (although famously Richard Stallman wrote Emacs in Lisp), but having spent some time with DrScheme (a free Scheme programming environment for Windows, Mac and Linux), I’m finding it’s influencing the way I think about code in more conventional languages for the better, and I’m sure Berkeley students find it an easier switch to their second language than those going the other way.
It’s great that UCB have made their lectures available at no charge; take a look through their catalog and you might find something that you like!