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Yale’s most popular course is a Harvard class

Harvard University professor David Malan revealed a Yale sweatshirt (right) that he was wearing under a Harvard sweatshirt during the first CS50 class at Yale University this fall.Ken Yanagisawa

On the gridiron this weekend, Harvard and Yale will clash as their long-running rivalry reaches its annual climax. But in the classroom, students from both Ivy League institutions have found computer compatibility.

Harvard University professor David Malan’s computer programming course, CS50, now has the highest enrollment numbers at both colleges. Malan helped Yale implement a pilot program modeled on his wildly popular Cambridge lectures at the New Haven school this fall.

“For the first time in history,” Malan said, “students have classmates at Yale, or classmates at Harvard, respectively.”

After Malan brainstormed in the summer of 2014 with Joan Feigenbaum, the chairwoman of Yale’s computer science department, the course was finally approved at the Connecticut school that December.


More than 330 students are currently taking the introductory course at Yale. Malan’s class at Harvard draws a staggering 800 students or more when it meets twice a week, he said.

The unprecedented collaboration lets students at both schools view live-streamed or archived videos of weekly lectures, which mostly take place at Harvard, but are occasionally hosted at Yale.

“We film all of the lectures. Students can attend in person or watch online live,” said Malan. “Yale students can’t attend in person, certainly, but they can watch the lectures live from the campus in New Haven.”

The lectures aren’t the primary vehicle for class instruction, anyway, he said.

A CS50 staff member helped a student during office hours at Harvard University. Winnie Wu

Teaching fellows and assistants skilled in computer programming at Yale, as their counterparts do at Harvard, hold special office hours each week. It’s during that time that students can ask questions about the course lectures and homework assignments.

There are also smaller group meetings — or sections — where students can review the week’s material with instructors.

“The lectures are Mondays and Wednesdays from 1 to 2 p.m. But the course, dare I say, is 24-7,” Malan said.


Aside from the location, the only major difference between the two classes is the name of the course. At Yale, CS50 is known as CPSC100.

“Students’ experiences are nearly identical on both campuses, and indeed we hope it’s been [enriching] for both campuses,” Malan said.

A website dedicated to the joint venture features the two schools’ logos conjoined, bridging the competitive gap between Harvard and Yale at least visually.

The course has been so successful that faculty at both schools are already gearing up for next fall, when it will be offered a second time.

“We are shocked and amazed to see that this has been pulled off so well,” said Brian Scassellati, the lead instructor of Yale’s programming class. “It’s been wonderful. David and the team at Harvard have been excellent.”

Diego Torres (left) helped a student during office hours for CS50 at Yale University. Ken Yanagisawa

Malan, who has been teaching CS50 at Harvard for nine years, said he often travels from Cambridge to Connecticut, so he can work with Scassellati and keep tabs on Yale students and the pilot program’s development.

Having spent so much time at the competing school, Malan has developed a fondness for Yalies, he said, despite the contention that has long existed between them.

“Of all the schools to collaborate with Harvard, I think Yale is the most perfect choice,” he said. “I’m not sure we can chip away hundreds of years of rivalry, but it’s a step toward reconciliation.”

In a recent picture posted to Facebook, Malan could even be seen wearing a Yale sweat shirt, and holding a T-shirt that says, “You can’t spell ‘Harvard is the worst university in the world’ without ‘Harvard.’ ”


Steve Annear can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.