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Harvard's Free Online Course: CS50P - Introduction to Programming with Python


Harvard University has recently introduced a new, free online course titled CS50P: Harvard's Introduction to Programming with Python. Taught by the renowned Professor David Malan, who also instructs Harvard's acclaimed Introduction to Computer Science course, this Python course shares the same engaging approach and offers the opportunity to earn a free certificate of completion.


The teaching approach of CS50P is distinctively engaging. Unlike most online courses where instructors talk to a camera or provide voiceovers for slides, CS50P offers a dynamic and captivating learning experience. Professor Malan paces the stage in front of a live audience, employing multiple camera angles to explain concepts at a consistent yet easily comprehensible pace. He live-codes through examples, actively interacts with students by taking their questions, and brings an entertaining element to the learning process. This show-like approach, similar to its Computer Science counterpart, has made CS50 one of the most popular online courses globally, with over 4.8 million learners.


CS50P is designed for complete beginners, making it accessible without any prerequisites. The course spans 9 weeks, with each week featuring a single 90-minute lecture and a corresponding problem set. The course kicks off swiftly, with Professor Malan introducing the fundamental programming tool, the code editor, within the first 20 seconds of the initial lecture.

The curriculum comprehensively covers Python programming, starting with basics like variables and conditionals, gradually progressing to more advanced topics like object-oriented programming. Key topics covered include:

- Variables and Data Structures: Exploring storage mechanisms, including lists.

- Conditionals: Implementing conditional logic for varied scenarios.

- Functions: Creating reusable programming logic.

- Loops: Running code repeatedly, especially over list elements.

- Libraries: Expanding Python's capabilities through pre-made software packages.

- Pythonic Concepts: Concluding with Python-specific concepts like list comprehensions, generators, lambdas, and tuple unpacking.

Upon completing the course, students will acquire the confidence to program effectively in Python.


Conceptual knowledge of a programming language is valuable, but practical application is essential. CS50P acknowledges this by offering coding assignments that are accessible and free. These assignments are conveniently completed through an in-browser code editor, eliminating the need for complicated setup processes.

The weekly problem sets, which reinforce concepts learned during the week, consist of around five diverse problems. These problems encompass various facets of Python and include tasks such as unit testing, data processing, form validation, PDF generation, and class definition. The final problem, modeling a cookie jar and its interactions, adds a playful touch to practicing Object-Oriented Programming (OOP).

CS50P's emphasis on hands-on coding assignments prepares students for more advanced Python courses and beyond.

Free Certificate: How to Earn One

Harvard's Python course offers a unique advantage in that it provides a free certificate of completion, a rarity among online courses today. To earn this certificate, students must navigate between two platforms where the course is offered: EdX and Harvard OpenCourseWare (OCW).

- EdX: While EdX is a familiar platform, it no longer offers free certificates. Instead, students enrolling in the course on EdX have the option to purchase a verified certificate for $199.

- Harvard OpenCourseWare (OCW): This platform, managed by Professor Malan and his team, offers the same course content, including all assignments, but with a significant difference – the certificate is free and does not require ID verification.

To unlock the free certificate on Harvard OCW, follow these steps:

1. Visit the CS50P page on Harvard OCW.

2. Complete each week's coursework, including:

- All problem sets with at least a 70% score.

- The final project with at least a 70% score.

3. Unlock your free certificate.

On Harvard OCW, you won't need to enroll in the course traditionally. Lectures are readily accessible, and instead, you'll set up a CS50 account via GitHub to submit assignments, view your grades, and obtain your certificate.

In conclusion, Harvard's CS50P course offers an engaging learning experience, comprehensive curriculum, hands-on coding assignments, and the rare opportunity to earn a free certificate of completion. It equips learners with valuable Python programming skills, making it an excellent choice for beginners and those looking to explore more advanced programming courses.

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