Hi, I just want to start this by saying how impressed I am with the pedagogy overall throughout all four classes. Concepts really build one on top of the other and all challenges–and make no mistake challenges are necessary for learning–really find the right level that test but aren’t past a student’s zone of proximal development. As a former high school math teacher and having earned an EdD at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, I don’t just hand out compliments for pedogogy to just anyone; it is well deserved here.
I have to say, however, the current state of Course 5 Week 4 is lacking behind the standards set by all of the previous lessons, activities, and courses to date. There are many, many conceptual jumps (both in the video and in the assignment) that, in my estimation, are well beyond most students’ zone of proximal development. The result is that, even if students eventually “figure out the answer”, I don’t think most will really have gained the same level of understanding of the concepts that is gained in the other lessons.
One prime example of this is Exercise 4 (“EncoderLayer”) in the only assignment for the week (Assignment 1). I was able to get to the correct answer by using the guide TensorFlow puts out on their website for Transformers. But the syntax, honestly, makes zero sense to someone like myself who has a coding background, has been able to follow all of the assignments to this point, but may not be an expert in Python, yet. In other words, I have no basis to understand the syntax, and the one bullet point in the assignment that addresses the
__init__ method is far from sufficient in helping me understand the coding paradigm that is going on here. And it is this level of understanding that I am after–not some certificate.
I say all of this because I think a lot of students are going to be frustrated with this week’s materials. Not the least of which is because this is the last week of a course but this week’s lessons and assignment break so many conventions and expectations set previously in all of the other courses.
Will committed students get to the correct answer? Many will find the resources online to arrive at an answer, sure. But will they really understand what is going on? No, not unless they have a strong background in the material already–a background that is not assumed in all of the other courses and lessons.
Bottom line–more scaffolding is sorely needed to reflect the best practices in pedagogy that manifests in all of the other lessons.
a) Videos are shorter this week, so there are opportunities to provide that to students and prep them for the lab.
b) In other labs there is example syntax to help scaffold concepts before students go off and code on their own. There are ways of doing this that help scaffold the concept without “giving the answer”.
c) Simply acknowledging that this weeks lesson is not like the other will help students plan accordingly and devote more time to it then they may reasonably expect. Having taught graduate-level courses, it is well understood that the “flunk you” assignment is supposed to come at the beginning of the course, not at the end, especially when it may mean the student will have to pay for an extra month unplanned to earn a certificate.