Students taking the computer science course CIS 120 can spend more than an hour waiting to meet a teaching assistant for help on their homework assignments — even though the class has more than 36 full-time TAs. This is just one of the many repercussions of the recent spike in the popularity of programming classes at Penn.
The Computer and Information Science Department is taking steps to improve the long wait periods for introductory CIS courses, in addition to already holding office hours nearly every day and hiring more TAs. But students say they are still frustrated with the extensive wait times.
“There’s actually a very long wait time, and that depends on the homework. When the homework is hard, I need to wait one hour and 20 minutes,” said Wharton and Engineering junior Yutong Liu, who took the course last year. “I think most of the problem comes from the confusion of the homework. People don’t know where to start.”
CIS 120 Head TA and Engineering senior Emmanuel Suarez said the biggest issue is how quickly and unexpectedly CIS courses are growing in attendance.
Approximately 400 students were enrolled in CIS 120 before the withdrawal period this semester, and for every ten students there is one TA, CIS lecturer Swapneel Sheth said. The department now has around 1,000 CIS majors, a drastic increase from 400 students a few years ago.
To address wait times, an online office hours queue is in the works for CIS 120. The queue will allow students to indicate which homework assignments they find the most challenging and provide access to TA availability and wait times. The University of California at Berkeley already has a similar program in place, CIS 120 Head TA Jenny Chen said.
The webpage would also allow TAs to round up groups of students with the same question instead of having to repeat the same concept to each one. The queue will likely launch by the end of the semester and will be fully implemented next semester, Sheth said.
Sheth also noted that CIS 120 has one of the most active Piazzas, an online classroom forum, with an average response time of 5 minutes.
“The most I’ve had to wait for a response was 20 minutes,” said Wharton sophomore Hardi Patel, who is taking CIS 120.
Another helpful resource is Codio, a software that allows students to access their homework on any computer or laptop. Students also use Codio to share their homework with TAs, who then can access students' work even if they are not physically present at office hours.
Students taking advanced CIS courses have also said they experience lengthy wait periods.
Engineering sophomore Derya Yavuz, who is taking CIS 240, said wait times are long because there is only one TA per shift and it can take at least 20 minutes to help each student. She added that half an hour before office hours begins, students often start to line up and put their names down in a queue.
"I could wait for 2 hours and still not have gotten help," Yavuz said. "That's just a very frustrating situation, and it's like that every single time."