TITLE: Workshop 4: Computer Scientists on CS Education Issues AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: November 03, 2008 7:19 PM DESC: ----- BODY:

[A transcript of the SECANT 2008 workshop: Table of Contents]

The first day of the workshop ended with two panels of two computer scientists each. The first described two current projects on introductory CS courses, and the second presented two CPATH projects related to the goals of SECANT. I either knew about these projects already or was familiar with their lessons from my department's experiences, so I didn't take quite as detailed notes. Then again, maybe I was just tiring after a long day of good stuff. On intro CS, Deepak Kumar talked about Learning Computing with Robots, which has developed a course that serves primarily non-majors, with a goal of broadening interest in computing, even as a general education course. This course teaches computing, not robotics. Kumar mentioned that the cost of materials is no longer the issue it once was. They have built the course around a robot kit that costs in the neighborhood o $110 -- about the same price as a textbook these days! Next, Tom Cortina talked about Teaching Key Principles of Computer Science Without Programming. In many ways, Cortina was swimming against the tide of this workshop, as he argued that non-majors could (should?) learn CS minus the programming. There certainly is a lot of cool stuff that students can learn using canned tools, talking about history, and doing some light math and logic. Cortina's course in particular covers a lot of neat material about algorithms. But still I think students miss out on something useful -- even central to computing -- when they bypass programming altogether. However, if the choice is between this course and a majors-style course that leaves non-majors confused, frustrated, or hating CS, well, then, I'll take this! The second "panel" presented two related CPATH projects. Valerie Barr of Union College described efforts creating a course in computational science across the curriculum at Union and Lafayette College. The key experience she reported was on how to build an initial audience for the course, so that later word of mouth can spread. Barr's experience sound familiar: blanket e-mail to faculty tends not to work well, but one-on-one conversations with faculty do -- especially ongoing contact and continued conversation. This sort of human contact is time-intensive, which makes it hard to scale as you move to schools much larger than Union or Lafayette. Barr said that they had had good luck dealing with people in their Career Center, who could tell students how useful computational skills are across all the majors on campus. At my school, we have had similar good results working with people in Academic Advising and Career Services. They seem to get the value of computational skills as well as or better than faculty across campus, and they have different channels than we do for reaching students over the long term. Finally, Lenny Pitt described the iCUBED project at the University of Illinois. The one content fact I remember from Pitt's talk is that they are working to develop applied CS programs and "CS + <X>" programs within other departments. The most memorable part of his talk for me, though, was how he had reconfigured the project's acronym (which they inherited from enabling policy or legislation) based on the workshop's theme and 2008 mantra: "Infiltration: Computing Used By Every Discipline." Creative! -----