Have you ever walked out of a CS class with that “what-just-happened” feeling? Maybe you dozed off momentarily because you’re a typical sleep-deprived college student. Or you were so hungry (more accurately: “hangry”) during class that your brain temporarily lost the ability to process words. Or maybe you’re dancing that line between not-sick-enough-to-stay-home but not-well-enough-to-focus. Or you just legitimately found it challenging to keep up with the lecture; because while CS is indisputably the best major in the whole universe, it’s not easy peasy lemon squeezy.
Unfortunately, I’ve been through all of those situations … multiple times throughout my college career. While there’s no shame in occasionally feeling a bit lost after a lecture, what is unforgivable is not taking the time to catch up afterwards. A lot of college classes, and the majority of my CS classes have always been cumulative; lectures build upon material from previous lectures. If you fall behind but don’t catch up by the next class, the next lecture is probably going to fly over your head, and the next one, and next one, and next one ... Until finals arrive and you realize you have to cram a mountain of knowledge into your brain in the space of several days. Probability of success: very low.
Trust me, you don’t want to be the person at the end of the semester with a grade on your transcript that is significantly lower than what you’re actually capable of. Of course, no one does it on purpose; it’s just incredibly easy to procrastinate and tell yourself: “Oh, it’s just one concept. I’ll go over it later.” You might feel intimidated to go to the professor and TA’s office hours or to admit to your friends that you don’t understand something. Alternatively, maybe you feel bad for taking up their time. But if this becomes a habit that you don’t do anything about it, there’s a chance that you’ll find yourself constantly being lost in lectures and thinking that the class is a 100 times harder than it really is. As someone who’s committed this academic cardinal sin early in her college career, I wouldn’t wish that kind of shame and regret on anyone. It’s the worst; it makes you want to poke yourself in the eyes, but you can’t because that would be stupid and painful.
Fortunately, I’ve learned from my past errors. There’s tons of ways to catch up if you find yourself confused about any part of a lecture or falling behind in a course. The best thing to do is to ask questions during class (duh). But if you didn’t – never fear! There is still (plenty) of hope left for you. First off – DO. NOT. PROCRASTINATE. Easier said than done, but don’t wait several weeks to look back at your notes (if you even took notes) and try to understand them then. Because by then you’re going to look at them and think: What are these strange markings? Is this even English? Why does it look like a chicken wrote them? Instead, immediately after class, try to talking to friends and classmates to clarify whatever it is you don’t understand. Borrow someone’s notes if you have to and copy them, while making sure you understand what the notes mean. My experience is that there’s plenty of UTCS students that are willing to help. Next, you can utilize office hours or Piazza. Sometimes those might not work because you can’t make it to office hours or Piazza isn’t a good enough substitute for in-person interaction. If that’s the case, still don’t worry because there are even more options. You can go to tutoring! Our department and university have resources in place for this. For example, this semester, the CS department is offering free tutoring for CS 311, CS 312, CS 314, CS 349, M 340L, and SDS 321! Also, the Sanger Learning Center in Jester, where every student receives 5 hours of free tutoring credits per semester, also has tutoring for some lower division CS classes.
I’ve found that one great resource in these situations is the internet. The glorious internet is truly the ultimate double-edged sword of our times. On one hand you can find your brain slowly melting and being replaced with memes, reddit threads, webcomics, genuinely disturbing YouTube videos, and [insert internet vice of your choice]. But on the other hand, it is a bastion of education. You can probably learn anything on the internet. There’s articles, blog posts, and YouTube videos coverings lots of CS course concepts. Personally I like videos the best because they often have helpful animations or someone is speaking to you as a teacher would. Even better, a number of universities like Stanford and MIT have put put their course material online. So if you’re having issues with a particular class, Artificial Intelligence for example, you can go find MIT’s Artificial Intelligence course and watch the video lectures. The syllabus might not match up exactly with our AI course’s syllabus, but there’s a good chance it could help you if you sift through the material. Furthermore, there’s tons and tons of online educational websites that you can peruse through and find one to fit your needs. I probably sound like a dated grandma when I say this but it honestly is blows my mind when I think about how much information is available for FREE on the internet.
Although I don’t plan on falling behind in any course this semester, I know I’ll be using at least some of those online resources for one of my classes (I’m looking at you Algo -_-) and so should you!
Happy Thursday! :)