[SIGCIS-Members] Homework assignment types for computer history survey course?

Troy Astarte t.k.astarte at swansea.ac.uk
Thu Jul 7 02:05:28 PDT 2022

Dear Evan,

Great to hear that your course went well! I would love to set up some kind of peer group of people teaching history of computing, particularly those who teach to computer science students, though I’m not quite at that point yet myself (should be in the next couple of years).

I have had experience with two courses: the Master’s level History of Digital Cultures taught at University of Amsterdam by Gerard Alberts, on which I worked as a TA for three years; and 3rd year undergraduate Invention and Innovation in Computing taught at Swansea University by John Tucker, which I have seen peripherally but have not directly taught on. HDC is block taught: the students work only on this module for a month. IIC is much longer and thinner: spread over the whole academic year, students take it alongside seven other modules.

However, both use somewhat similar assessments: presentations and a final report. HDC students work in groups of 3-6, researching a historical topic of their choosing, and deliver at least one presentation a week. They also submit their ongoing report progress each week. They receive feedback throughout, but are given a final mark based on their final report and presentation. Each team also delivers a presentation at the start of week 2 on one chapter from Computer (Campbell-Kelly et al) and one other piece of literature related to their project topic. IIC students work individually, also on research topics of their choice, and throughout semester 2, student presentations replace the lectures. At the end, they deliver written reports. In both modules, the reports are held to the standards of scholarly work in the history of computing. No examinations are sat.

Both of these appear to work rather well, and it’s not too difficult to see why, given that the presentation and the monograph are the standard ways to share research results in history. For the module I’m (slowly) devising I plan to have a written report as the final marked assessment and probably also include marked presentations. I was also considering having students submit podcast-style audio recordings in which they discuss their findings in small groups—since the podcast is an increasingly popular way to consume historical material.

For the assignments you mention, I’m not totally sure how to interpret the words. Quiz seems straightforward; does “midterm” denote an essay? And likewise “paper”? Perhaps as a “survey” course you aren’t expecting students to perform historical research themselves? That might make the assessments of the kind mentioned in HDC and IIC inapplicable.


Dr. Troy Kaighin Astarte (they/them / nhw)

Lecturer, Computer Science / Darlithydd, Cyfrifiadureg
Swansea University / Prifysgol Abertawe

For students: my office hours are Wednesday (online) and Friday (CoFo 407 & online), 10–1100.
I fyfyrwyr: fy oriau swyddfa yw dydd Mercher (ar-lein) a dydd Gwener (CoFo 407 ac ar-lein), 10–1100.

Every email has a cost to the climate. Please think before sending short emails.
Mae gan bob e-bost gost i’r hinsawdd. Meddyliwch cyn i chi anfon e-byst byr.

On 30 Jun 2022, at 19:13, Koblentz, Evan A <evan.koblentz at njit.edu<mailto:evan.koblentz at njit.edu>> wrote:

This week I received my course evaluations from our spring semester. It was my first time working as an adjunct instructor. The student evaluations of my knowledge and teaching were great, the only exception being that everyone ranked the assignments as average, easy, or very easy.

The assignments were:
- multiple choice quiz at the start of each class, to ensure the students read the homework chapters
- midterm with 10 open-ended questions
- final paper

For those who teach similar courses (survey of the history of computing), what kind of assignments do you give? Also what sort of in-class group projects do you assign? I'm looking for new ideas. There is some concern that CS students might take my course with the expectation of it being an easy A. (It's not, but still I think it needs to be more challenging for them.)
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