This course is an introduction to the basic concepts of programming languages, with a strong emphasis on functional programming. The course uses the languages ML, Racket, and Ruby as vehicles for teaching the concepts, but the real intent is to teach enough about how any language “fits together” to make you more effective programming in any language — and in learning new ones.
This course is neither particularly theoretical nor just about programming specifics — it will give you a framework for understanding how to use language constructs effectively and how to design correct and elegant programs. By using different languages, you will learn to think more deeply than in terms of the particular syntax of one language. The emphasis on functional programming is essential for learning how to write robust, reusable, composable, and elegant programs. Indeed, many of the most important ideas in modern languages have their roots in functional programming. Get ready to learn a fresh and beautiful way to look at software and how to have fun building it.
The course assumes some prior experience with programming, as described in more detail in the first module.
The course is divided into three Coursera courses: Part A, Part B, and Part C. As explained in more detail in the first module of Part A, the overall course is a substantial amount of challenging material, so the three-part format provides two intermediate milestones and opportunities for a pause before continuing. The three parts are designed to be completed in order and set up to motivate you to continue through to the end of Part C. The three parts are not quite equal in length: Part A is almost as substantial as Part B and Part C combined.
Week 1 of Part A has a more detailed list of topics for all three parts of the course, but it is expected that most course participants will not (yet!) know what all these topics mean.
Introduction and Course-Wide Information (Start Here)
Welcome! Start here! Learn about this course and how it's organized.
Software Installation and Homework 0
This module contains two things: (1) The information for the [unusual] software you need to install for Programming Languages Part A. (2) An optional "fake" homework that you can turn in for auto-grading and peer assessment to get used to the mechanics of assignment turn-in that we will use throughout the course. You can do this module either before or after watching the first few "actual course content" videos in the next module, but you will want to get the software installed soon so you can learn by actively trying out variations on the code in the videos. You will need to install the software to do the homework.
Section 1 and Homework 1
It's time to dive in! Start with a careful reading of the "Section 1 Welcome Message" and go from there.
Section 2 and Homework 2
This section is a particularly rewarding one where a lot of ideas come together to reveal a surprisingly elegant underlying structure in ML. As usual, start with the welcome reading, dive into the material, and leave plenty of time to approach the programming assignment methodically.
Section 3 and Homework 3 -- and Course Motivation
This section is all about higher-order functions -- the feature that gives functional programming much of its expressiveness and elegance -- and its name! As usual, the first reading below introduces you to the section, but it will make more sense once you dive in to the lectures. Also be sure not to miss the material on course motivation that we have put in a "lesson" between the other videos for this week and the homework assignment. The material is "optional" in the sense that it is not needed for the homeworks or next week's exam, but it is still very highly encouraged to better understand why the course (including Parts B and C) covers what it does and, hopefully, will change the way you look at software forever.
Section 4 and Part-A Exam
We finish Part A of the course with this module. As explained in more detail in the welcome message, we discuss type inference, ML's module system, and the fundamental idea in computing of two computations being equivalent. There is no programming assignment -- instead there is an exam covering all of Part A. Finally, there is a brief wrap-up video for the end of Part A that also looks ahead to Part B and Part C -- we have put it after the exam, so don't overlook it.
The course assumes students are familiar with programming covered by most introductory courses, but it is explicitly designed not to be a particularly advanced course. Students should be comfortable with variables, conditionals, arrays, linked lists, stacks, and recursion (though recursion will be reviewed and expanded upon), and the difference between an interface and an implementation. Students should be eager to write programs in languages new to them. Part C of the course analyzes basic object-oriented concepts and contrast them with those of other languages, so familiarity with Java or a closely related language (e.g., C#) might be helpful for Part C, but it is not necessary for the assignments. This course is based on a course designed for second- and third-year undergraduates: not a first computer science course, but not an advanced course either. So it certainly will not cover everything in the beautiful world of programming languages, but it is a solid introduction. It is designed to be eye-opening and fascinating both for learners seeking a "third or fourth programming course" and for learners with more experience who are looking for a clear and precise foundation in programming languages. The assignments in the course are designed to be challenging, but with everything you need in the course content. An introductory video and another reading discuss assumed background in some more detail in Week 1 of the course.