Before turning in his freshman-year programing exam, Eric Peterson, CIS’14, drew a character on the back of the test to celebrate. The little man slid across the bottom of the page, playing a guitar and deflecting pencil-drawn flames.
A few weeks later, the character landed Peterson on a team with seven other freshmen who spent three years creating Realm of Racket, a textbook written “by freshmen for freshmen.”
The brainchild of computer and information science professors Matthias Felleisen and David Van Horn, along with medical-software developer Conrad Barski, the book teaches readers a programming language called Racket, which Felleisen developed more than a decade ago.
Far from the technical drone of most textbooks, Realm of Racket engages readers—comic book-style—through the story of Chad, an undecided college freshman who is caught in the realm of Racket and must learn programming to escape.
“It would be nearly impossible to explain the wealth of experiential knowledge that came from this project,” says Rose DeMaio, CIS’14, who also worked on the book.
Both the project and students’ salaries were financed by Brian Wenzinger, CS’89, who created the Jane K. Wenzinger Fund, which aims to “channel creative energies into nonstandard learning opportunities.”
“The fact that the text incorporates a very ‘youthful’ and novel approach to conveying technical material embodies the spirit of this fund,” says Wenzinger. “It’s not a normal textbook, but even an old computer hand like me got hooked.”