with Godfried Toussaint
Excursions in Computer
(Interviewed December 4, 1996 by Elizabeth McMillan-Davey from
McGill Center for Teaching and Learning)
1. What are the goals in
course, that is, what are students supposed to learn or develop as a
of having taken this course?
The students are supposed to:
2. What steps did you take to
students achieve these goals?
Acquire a general idea about what problems and
field of computer science is primarily concerned with.
Better appreciate the power and ubiquitous
of computers in society at large.
Learn the limitations of computers.
Learn to do research work (1) independently and (2)
of their own choosing.
Develop critical-thinking and problem-solving
Improve their writing skills.
Develop public speaking skills and the preparation
research reports and audio-visual aids.
3. How well prepared do you
students were for this course?
4. How would you characterize
in this course?
I gave seminar-type lectures on a large variety of
in the field and used a textbook with the same flavour.
I organized a class debate between teams on the
whether a computer can think.
I insisted that each student choose an individual
on a different application of computers.
I gave 8 assignments on a wide variety of different
that required problem solving and essay writing.
Students were required to write a term paper on
Students were required to give oral presentations
term project in class using audio-visual aids such as overhead
5. How successful do you think
have been in learning in this course?
6. Did anything in particular
to their learning?
Improving on the skills described in (1) above.
7. Do you think students have
new ways of studying or of thinking in this course?
The eight challenging problem-solving assignments.
The frequent and relaxed free-style discussions in
The self-motivated research project on a topic of
interest to each student.
8. Would you say the learning
in this course has been different from that in other courses you have
If so, in what way?
Yes. I think they have learned to study by doing
I also think the creative problem-solving type of
was new to them.
Finally, I think they see the positive aspects of
and constructive debate.
9. What advice would you give
student entering this course?
Yes. I am accustomed to teach graduate students.
it was a novel experience for me to teach first year students. I was
surprised to find out that they were brighter than I expected. Their
for learning was inspiring.
In other higher level courses with large classes,
generally shy away from questions (there is really no time for them
of the pressure to cover a lot of material). In this course, because of
the free seminar atmosphere, students asked many questions and I felt
to entertain them. It was refreshing to feel such an interest from the
students and to feel that I was clarifying their thoughts by answering
them. I have not experienced imediately-gratifying aspect of teaching
this degree in the upper level courses.
10. Is there anything else
you think is important about the students' learning experience this
Take advantage of the freedom the course affords.
Ask questions freely in class.
For the class project select the topic (whatever it
that you are most passionately curious about in your life.
Yes. I think that with small
style classes like these the students obtain a different view of the
professor. They view the professor not only as an information
object but also as a human being that is not only a teacher, but also a
researcher. Instilling a research approach to knowledge
is important for the student because success in life is strongly