Background: As part of the "getting a new Dean" process, we're undergoing a "make a 5 year plan" process. The School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) had a mini-retreat just before classes started to discuss it all.
I wandered into lunch the other day and saw some other faculty from SEAS -- but from well outside computer science -- already eating, so I joined them. In our friendly discussions, they asked about our growth plan, and asked me to justify it further to them. One point I brought up was that we did a lot of "service" to the rest of the university. Sure, they said, they knew about the very large intro programming class, but that was just one class. What else?
I listed off several of our other classes that they didn't seem really aware of -- our course for non-majors CS 1 (Great Ideas in Computer Science) and our Gen Ed course Bits, our more advanced programming classes CS 51 and CS 61, our new interdisciplinary visualization course CS 171 and our new course on design of usable interactive systems CS179, and probably a few others. I then mentioned that even our theory courses (introduction to complexity, and introduction to algorithms and data structures) were attracting a lot of non-majors, and pointed out that they each had 80 students last year. (We have about 30-40 or so CS majors a year right now.)
Their jaws literally dropped. One of them asked me, multiple times, how there could be 80 people at Harvard who were interested in taking Algorithms. (While I, of course, always wonder why it's so few.) I still have doubts that they believed me; I think I ought to get something official-looking from the registrar and send it to them.
Now, admittedly, last year's class was big -- my class this year looks to be a more normal about 50 or so. But I was still surprised by their surprise. I check out the class sizes around SEAS to get a feel for what's going on every year (we usually get an e-mail with course counts). Also, I'm pretty sure I mention my class size fairly often to other SEAS faculty when the opportunity arises, but apparently less often than I think. I was left with the feeling that I, and maybe the rest of the CS faculty, needed to engage the other SEAS faculty a bit more and let them know more about what we're doing. In particular, as another faculty member said to me, "When they talk about a really big class, they mean 40 students. When we talk about a really big class, we mean over 100."
I'm not exactly a shy, retiring type. (I mean, c'mon, I blog.) But I'll be upping my efforts to make sure others at Harvard have a better idea of what we're doing, especially in terms of teaching our undergraduates.