Resource:How to leverage Harvard's free CS50 online class to teach code on your campus

From University Innovation Fellows
Jump to navigation Jump to search


Harvard’s Introduction to Computer Science course, CS50, is a popular class not only at Harvard but also around the world. Although students around the world are now able to complete CS50 online, it has been required for all first-year students at Harvard since its introduction. It is available free to the public via, a hub for online classes hosted by over 90 of the world's top Universities.  It is a means for anyone interested to learn to code and is a valuable resource to Fellows in particular.  Topics covered in this class include abstraction, algorithms, data structures, encapsulation, resource management, security, software engineering, and web development. A wide variety of languages are covered as well including C, Python, SQL, and JavaScript plus CSS and HTML.

One Fellow, Trevor Nicks, leveraged the class to not only teach himself a valuable skill, but also to establish it as an accredited course at his university, William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri. Initiating the use of online courses such as CS50 on a campus can help to teach students skills and knowledge that they may not have been able to learn in their major or at their school at all. 

Need and Goal

Coding is one of many important skills in today's technological landscape. For college students in non-STEM majors or at institutions with limited course offerings, it can be difficult to supplement one's learning in a convenient way. Incorporating online accredited courses into an institution's course catalog would better enable students to broaden the scope of their learning without sacrificing their major or school of choice.

Likewise, as discussed below, taking CS50 on costs significantly less than enrolling in an on-campus course at your home university. Less money will always be worth more when education is involved! With the ability to place CS50 on his transcript, Trevor has added a valuable display to his resume as he leaves William Jewell and an integral tool to his toolbox for his career ahead. As it benefitted Trevor, the ability to receive accredited credit-hours on your home university's transcript through edX is a more economical way for students to gather the necessary skills they'll need to succeed in the modern workforce. 

Academic Permission/Support

First, making changes to a course catalog requires communication with the school's administration. The provost or vice-provost would be the most apt to address this topic. To gain access to a school's administration, it would most likely be easier to go through one's UIF sponsor or another faculty member who supports making this change. It is important to communicate frequently and professionally through email, as faculty and administrators are notoriously busy people. In order to coax the administrators into hearing and heeding this request, it may help to invite them to a meeting and offer refreshments so that you may politely and professionally state your case.



The greatest cost in instituting currculum changes is time and energy in the form of paperwork and bureaucracy. Adding a course such as CS50 is relatively cheap for an institution in the long run, as it only requires some effort at the beginning. Once a course is added, the cost for an individual student is roughly $100. While the course content is accesible for no cost, the charge is necessary for one's work to be graded by the host university, thereby validating the credit hours. One's school may accept a certain amount of credits for online courses from, and considering the generally high tuition cost at most institutions, paying roughly $100 for 3-4 credit hours is very reasonable.



It is important to consider how long it takes for bureaucracy to be completed and institutional changes to be made. While it may seem like a small task, making changes to a course catalog requires various levels of approval from accredidation boards. One should allow at least a semester to pass for paperwork to be completed. Once an online course is authorized, the next students will be able to enroll in the course and receive credit from the institution as easily as with any other course.

Lessons Learned

Trevor began this journey with an individual desire to learn how to code, not realizing at the time how far-reaching this demand was within his school, both at the student and administrative level. A lesson from this experience is to embrace change and attempt new things, since not only could you be solving your own problems, but could also be fulfilling the needs of your community. Trevor did not allow the lack of a programming course at his school to discourage his intellectual pursuit, and instead paved the way to help others achieve a higher level of academic freedom. 

Creating a new class in a different medium required him to communicate frequently with administration and stay on top of bureaucratic demands. Though it may seem straightforward for a school to add a new class, administration must tackle restraints that are usually unseen from the outside. Time and patience are necessary. Fostering faculty relationships will also help, as a faculty sponsor can act as a valuable resource for support, connections, information, and ideas.

Written by:

Lisa BaerAustin ThomasMagnolia JRZachary AndreasonHayden Rogers, Jillian Jacques, Carson Addison, and Rachel Welch