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A tour of ArsDigita University

By inspire in MLP
Mon Oct 23, 2000 at 01:37:52 PM EST
Tags: Technology (all tags)

Many of you may have read about ArsDigita University when it was profiled in Slashdot earlier this year. Philip Greenspun, founder of the university, was interviewed by Slashdot not much later.

The basic idea of ArsDigita university is to provide a fee-free computer science education comparable to nearby MIT in an amazingly compressed timespan (one year compared to the usual three).

Aaron Schwartz, fellow ArsDigita prize winner, visited ArsDigita university recently and has reported his impression of the place, the people, and the whole scheme of things there.

A quote from his article:

Once students are admitted, they discover that the curriculum is just as rigorous as the admissions procedures were. aDUni is an intense education, teaching in one day what other schools might teach in a week. It only teaches one subject: computer science, and everyone takes the same course at the same time. Classes run on a tight schedule -- every month is a complete colege course. The classes start with basic math and advance to such complicated subjects as designing a website and maintaining a server. Many of the students I spoke with preferred the intensity, feeling it helped them concentrate and work their hardest.


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Related Links
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o Aaron Schwartz
o ArsDigita prize winner
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A tour of ArsDigita University | 15 comments (14 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
This is Computer Science? (3.85 / 7) (#2)
by molo on Mon Oct 23, 2000 at 10:46:45 AM EST

The classes start with basic math and advance to such complicated subjects as designing a website and maintaining a server.

You have got to be kidding me. There is no SCIENCE in that. Either the person who wrote this article doesn't know anything about CS or ArsDigita is an IT school disguised as a CS school. Comparable to nearby MIT? Hardly. I would be very very surprised if they were even working toward an accredited degree program, let alone the Ph.D. program available at MIT.

Theory of Computation, Complexity, Algorithm Analysis, Principles of Operating System Design, Object Oriented Design, etc. etc. These are some of the classes / topics required for a Computer Science cirriculum.

Whenever you walk by a computer and see someone using pico, be kind. Pause for a second and remind yourself that: "There, but for the grace of God, go I." -- Harley Hahn

Re: This is Computer Science? (3.50 / 2) (#3)
by inspire on Mon Oct 23, 2000 at 10:51:49 AM EST

Thats probably a bad example given by the author. Check the university's subject list, and you'll find that the stuff they teach is actual, real CS stuff, and not trade-school pap (well, they do teach a few extraeneous subjects, but the core of the school should be teaching down-to-earth computer science).
What is the helix?
[ Parent ]
Are You in a CS program? (4.66 / 3) (#5)
by Carnage4Life on Mon Oct 23, 2000 at 11:23:59 AM EST

What I saw in your link was a heavy dose of the kind of crap that ArsDigita thinks is important (creating and maintaining E-commerce websites) and very small doses of anything purely CS. E.g. The artificial intelligence course lasts a week. In no way does the program linked to resemble a real C.S. program. It looks more like the kind of program that a two-year technical college would put together at best.

Frankly I don't hold much truck in ArsDigita ever since I found out that they pay high school grads $70K and college grads $100K to do web scripting and DB applications. From the descriptions I've gotten of ArsDigita both from employees and boot camp attendees, the place is a hackers playground where and software engineering and computer science practices are paid lip service. Of course, the fact that they think putting words like "fuck" in their comments is professional does not aid their credibility in my eyes.

[ Parent ]
Re: Are You in a CS program? (4.00 / 1) (#6)
by inspire on Mon Oct 23, 2000 at 11:35:17 AM EST

To answer your question, no. I'm probably not the best person to ask about CS/SE practices - I see a list of impressive looking subjects which friends from 1st/2nd year CS tell me they are doing, so I assumed that that was a standard CS course. You're probably right if you say their CS course is thin on the ground though.

Having gone to bootcamp I can verify the 'hackers playground' mentality of ArsDigita - however when shit hits the fan they can certainly come up with the goods, so I wouldn't dismiss them out of hand. I'm not sure about the 70-100k salaries though, it's probably a holdover from pre-dotcom collapse times, who knows (I dont work there)...

The most interesting point I see though is the use of the word 'fuck' in comments. It's a cliche example, I know, but it's always fun to do:

[root@iago:/usr/src/linux]$ grep fuck -r * | wc
     23     239    1760

Of course, your views on the professionalism of Linux may vary :) I certainly don't see it as a rousing tribute to software engineers everywhere...
What is the helix?
[ Parent ]

True... but (3.00 / 1) (#7)
by nutate on Mon Oct 23, 2000 at 12:00:18 PM EST

Being a post-baccalaureate program, with teachers from MIT and elsewhere, even without accreditation, it looks good to me. Now surely if money is the final scorecard, I think I can just as good a computer job as my cs-major friend who graduated a year ago, with my materials science and engineering degree, and I won't have to write apps for nt. But, your mileage may vary. I will be seriously applying to ars digita university for this next year, specifically because I like its non-standard cs approach (and my non-cs b.sci. i should have in may).

[ Parent ]

Re: Are You in a CS program? (none / 0) (#9)
by MrEfficient on Mon Oct 23, 2000 at 04:29:52 PM EST

I remember seeing that $70k figure on their website, I suppose that does sound high for a high school grad, but I got the impression that their requirements were pretty tough. One thing you have to keep in mind is the cost of living in Mass, its fairly high. I live in Mississippi and 70k there equates to about 50k here, which would be reasonable for a really good recent CS grad, especially considering that e-commerce is a hot area.

[ Parent ]
agreed (3.00 / 2) (#4)
by fantastic-cat on Mon Oct 23, 2000 at 11:21:01 AM EST

yeah I agree, I wonder if they also tell you how to make a powerpoint presentation :] In all seriousness though perhaps tha was a little unfair, but having looked at the full course list the learning schedule doesn't look as compressed or intensive as is suggested. It looks like the stuff I did in the first year of my CS degree certainly no more.

[ Parent ]
Basic math vs. "More complicated subjects&quo (2.50 / 2) (#8)
by Caranguejeira on Mon Oct 23, 2000 at 02:06:22 PM EST

I agree. Which of these is the more complex subject for a student to understand:

1) A beginning math concept such as using the zero-factor property to find the solution set to a prime-factored quadratic equation.


2) Using HTML to create a web site.

It is silly what this author views as "complex." Even bonehead math is harder to learn and understand than system administration practices or how to make a web site.

Or what is their idea of basic math? Addition and multiplication? Come on.

[ Parent ]
Hey! I'm not silly! (3.00 / 1) (#11)
by aswartz on Mon Oct 23, 2000 at 05:53:41 PM EST

Just wanted to say, I totally agree. Math is much more complex than learning HTML. In fact, I'm rather bummed because at the school I'm at, they only teach silly stuff like HTML and C, and more theoretical stuff like SICP is completely ignored.

Sorry, I guess I worded it badly. I hope the <a href=&quot;http://swartzfam.com/aaron/school/2000/10/20/&quot;>new wording is better.

Thanks, The Author

[ Parent ]

Sorry about the HTML (none / 0) (#12)
by aswartz on Mon Oct 23, 2000 at 05:55:34 PM EST

Sorry, really getting screwed by the HTML formatting here today. My apologies, this is my first time here.

[ Parent ]
Oh (4.00 / 1) (#13)
by Caranguejeira on Mon Oct 23, 2000 at 06:53:33 PM EST

Well, there I go humiliating myself again.

Anyway, after suffering through Number Theory and Discrete Math and Calculus 3 and Systems Engineering theory, it sure is anticlimatic that the "real world" applications would be, say, build your own web site.

Most literate folks with a pulse and typing skills could do that stuff. Why bother with school. :)

I would at least expect that the final project would be something like a natural language parser, regular expression engine, a new computer language, an OS Kernel, a ray-tracer, or something that takes real computer science to program.

[ Parent ]
Sorry, bad example (4.00 / 1) (#10)
by aswartz on Mon Oct 23, 2000 at 05:48:34 PM EST

Hello there -- the author here. You're right, it's a bad example. I've now updated <a href="http://swartzfam.com/aaron/school/2000/10/20/"the page:
<a href="http://aduni.org/catalog/">The classes start with basic math, move on to cover more theoretical things like algorithms and system design, and end up with real-life projects, like building a web site.
Also, keep in mind the type of students that are going to aDUni. They're not computer geeks like I am -- some of them hadn't even used a computer until a few years ago! The more theoretical computer background, while I agree is important, may not be as interesting to them as it is to you or I.

[ Parent ]
Neat. (none / 0) (#15)
by molo on Thu Oct 26, 2000 at 05:57:37 PM EST

Hi. Thanks for having the courtesy and professionalism to reply to a critique. I, for one, appreciate it.

Whenever you walk by a computer and see someone using pico, be kind. Pause for a second and remind yourself that: "There, but for the grace of God, go I." -- Harley Hahn
[ Parent ]
In defense of Aaron (3.00 / 2) (#14)
by Dacta on Mon Oct 23, 2000 at 07:33:09 PM EST

I'm on a few mailing lists with Aaron, and believe me - he knows his stuff. I'm quite sure that he doesn't find building a website difficult.

If you had bothered to do some research of your own research (like maybe reading the ArsDigita University Course Catalog) it would be quite clear this is quite a serious program.

For those of you who don't know how to|can't be bothered to click on a link, here is a synopsis:

  • Mathematics for Computer Science
  • Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs
  • Discrete Mathematics and Probability
  • How Computers Work
  • Object-oriented Program Design and Software Engineering.
  • Algorithms.
  • Systems
  • Software Engineering for Web Applications.
  • The Theory of Computation.
  • Banzai AI
  • Database Management Systems
  • Probabilistic Systems Analysis

Looks a fair bit like the CS program I did - although I admit I never did something called Banzai AI.

[ Parent ]
A tour of ArsDigita University | 15 comments (14 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
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