[Edu-sig] Teaching Python in adult ed course

Jim Harrison jhrsn at pitt.edu
Thu Dec 4 14:08:18 EST 2003

on 12/4/03 11:30 AM, Kent Johnson at kent at pondview.mv.com wrote:

> I am planning an adult education course that will be an introduction to
> programming in Python. The biggest challenge I see is to actually teach a
> meaningful chunk of programming in a very limited time - 6 to 8 classes with
> learners with a variety of background and interest levels.

You might also be interested in some of our materials from a graduate course
in introductory programming I teach in our medical informatics training
program. We have a range of ages and most of the students have had a bit of
exposure to programming but are by no means experts; essentially all are
from healthcare backgrounds.

Our one-semester course meets for three hours once a week. The first hour is
spent reviewing homework and concepts from the previous week, the second
hour is used to introduce and explain new material and the third hour is
usually dedicated to code review--basically code grabbed from anywhere that
illustrates the key concepts of the week. The class is taught in a computer
lab using projected web pages on a whiteboard as a discussion focus. We draw
on top of the projected code with markers and students are encouraged to
copy the code into IDLE or SciTE and edit/run it on their machines during
the discussion (as we also do on the board).

We cover most of basic Python (including an introduction to Tkinter) in 7
weeks, then survey regular expressions, database access, image processing,
network programming (sockets, urllib and XML-RPC) and HTML/XML processing in
the remainder of the course. There are weekly programming assignments (Kirby
Urner is correct, this is the most crucial part of the course) and a longer
project of the students' choosing during the second half of the course.

It's been great to see several students who took the course go on to use
their own Python programs as key parts of their Masters or PhD research;
these are students who would not have included a programming component in
their work at all were it not for Python.

The course isn't quite where I want it yet, but it's improving with each
iteration. You're welcome to have a look and use anything that you wish. The
main course page is http://jhh.opi.upmc.edu/main/pop/. Click the
ClassSchedule under Class Information at the right for links to the
individual sessions.

Best wishes,

Jim Harrison
James H. Harrison, Jr., MD, PhD  <mailto:jhrsn at pitt.edu>
Associate Professor, Pathology Informatics, Department of Pathology
5230 Centre Ave., 3rd Fl. UPMC Cancer Pavilion
Pittsburgh, PA 15232
office: 412-647-5529 | fax: 412-647-5380 | cell: 412-445-0836

Faculty Member in Residence, Center for Biomedical Informatics
Associate Professor, Intelligent Systems Program
University of Pittsburgh
Suite 8084 Forbes Tower
Pittsburgh, PA 15213-2582
office: 412-647-7113 | fax: 412-647-7190

"If you want sense, you'll have to make it yourself!!"-Norton Juster

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