Archive for the ‘CS education’ category

 

Every College Student Should Take a Computer Science Course

May 4th, 2015

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The following is a blog post by Ran Libeskind-Hadas, R. Michael Shanahan Professor and Computer Science Department Chair at Harvey Mudd College and Computing Community Consortium (CCC) Council Member, that was recently posted in the Huffington Post

Here are three good reasons why every college student should take an introductory computer science course.

First, computing has become an inextricable part of our lives. Understanding how computers and software work, what they can and can’t do, and their impact on society is, therefore, an important part of a modern liberal arts education.

Second, computing is a creative endeavor at the crossroads of engineering, mathematics, psychology, and the arts. A well-conceived computer science course can integrate problem solving, logic, human factors, and artistic creativity. It’s hard to imagine a domain that bridges more of what we hope to teach in college.

Third, computing is a valuable skill. While most people who take a single computing course — or even a few courses — won’t end up at Google or Microsoft, it doesn’t take a lot of computing background to develop a useful and highly sought-after skill set. In some introductory courses, students write their own smart phone apps, educational games, powerful web applications, and DNA analysis tools. A single computer science course can provide students with skills that they’ll use in later courses, projects, senior theses, and even internships and jobs.

But, it’s not just on the students. Colleges and universities need to reimagine computing courses that are meaningful and compelling for undergraduates who are not already predisposed to computer science and for whom a first computer science course may also be their last computer science course. In many cases, existing computing courses for non-majors teach students to use spreadsheets, presentation software, and maybe write a webpage. Those are useful skills, but lack both the intellectual depth and the creativity of a real introductory computer science course. Other introductory courses discuss the history of computing, its impact on society, and some computing concepts, but do not provide students with actual programming experience.

I believe that a first course in computing should certainly teach big ideas, discuss the fascinating history of the field, and explore the applications and implications of computing in society, but should also give students rich and meaningful experiences writing their own programs. And not just programs that the student will write, submit, and forget about, but programs that students are genuinely excited about and will spend at least as much time using and showing their friends and family as they did writing the code itself.

I’m encouraged by an increasing number of innovative introductory courses that provide students with these rich experiences. And, I’m very excited to see students voting for these courses with their feet. At my institution, Harvey Mudd College, we developed a set of introductory courses that are not only required for all Harvey Mudd students but are now immensely popular among non-majors at our four sister institutions in the Claremont Colleges consortium. At a college of 800 students, we are teaching introductory computer science to all of our first-year students, regardless of their ultimate major. And, we are attracting hundreds of students each from our sister colleges in Claremont. They are literature, economics, and sociology majors – among many others. And Harvey Mudd does not have a monopoly on innovative introductory courses. A number of other institutions including the University of Washington, Harvard, and others have pioneered their own successful courses in a similar spirit.

Compelling first courses can have a large impact in attracting traditionally underrepresented groups to computing. The most recent CRA Taulbee Survey of over 100 major computer science departments in North America reported that under 15 percent of bachelors degrees in CS go to women. Until 2007, Harvey Mudd’s numbers were — if anything — lower than the national average. In 2007, we implemented our new introductory courses and saw an immediate increase in the number of women choosing to major in computer science. Over 40 percent of our majors are now women and that has held steady for several years. While our numbers are too small to discern the impact on other traditionally underrepresented groups, we see some evidence that these courses are drawing more Hispanic/Latino and African-American students to the major as well.

Finally, universities and colleges should include appropriately designed computer science courses as part of their general education curricula. At many schools with undergraduate distribution requirements in mathematics and the sciences, a computer science course isn’t included as an option. While I can’t argue that computer science is more important than calculus or statistics or a physical or natural science course, it’s becoming extremely difficult to argue that it shouldn’t be an equal player in that array of extraordinary human achievement.

 

 

Engaging Undergraduates in Research:  Upcoming Workshops at ICRA and FCRC

April 22nd, 2015

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The following is a guest blog post by Ran Libeskind-Hadas, R. Michael Shanahan Professor and Computer Science Department Chair at Harvey Mudd College, Susanne Hambrusch, Professor of Computer Science at Purdue University, and Nancy Amato, Unocal Professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at Texas A&M University.

The Education Committee of the Computing Research Association (CRA-E) is sponsoring workshops for faculty members interested in mentoring undergraduate research.  The next two workshops are at ICRA (Seattle, Saturday May 30, 12-1:30 PM, lunch provided) and FCRC (Portland, Monday, June 15, 6-7:30 PM, appetizers provided).  The workshops are free.

The objectives of these workshops are to provide faculty with resources and best practices for engaging undergraduates in their research, identifying funding sources for undergraduate research, and encouraging undergraduates to consider careers in research.  To ensure a healthy pipeline of students motivated to continue on to graduate school, it is critically important that talented undergraduates obtain meaningful research experiences.  Having faculty who are well-prepared to supervise undergraduate research can make a difference.  

The workshops are funded by the National Science Foundation.   Please see the CRA-E’s workshop page for more information and instructions for registering.

Analysis of Current and Future Computer Science Needs via Advertised Faculty Searches

November 25th, 2014

cew250The following is a guest blog post from Craig E. Wills,  Professor and Department Head of the Computer Science Department at Worcester Polytechnic Institute

The wealth of faculty searches in Computer Science during this hiring season for positions starting in the Fall of 2015 affords the opportunity to study areas of Computer Science where departments are choosing to invest in new faculty hires. While the number and areas for faculty searches does not necessarily translate into the same for faculty hires, we believe that they provide insight into current and future needs within the discipline. We analyzed ads from 223 institutions for hundreds of tenure-track faculty positions in Computer Science. Overall, the clusters of Big Data, Security and Systems/Networking are the areas of greatest investment.

From a research perspective, the 122 institutions in our study granting PhDs in Computer Science are twice as likely to be seeking to fill positions in Big Data in comparison with BS and MS institutions. Security is of most interest for top-100 PhD and BS institutions. Software Engineering is much less in demand for top-100 PhD institutions relative to the other institutions in our study. Finally, the abundance of potentially interdisciplinary areas is evident for PhD institutions with at least a third and up to 60% of all positions devoted to these areas. Traditional Computer Science areas such as Data Mining, Machine Learning and Vision have become enablers for interdisciplinary study.

The full report containing a description of the methodology and the complete results is available at http://www.cs.wpi.edu/~cew/papers/CSareas14.pdf.

 

Working towards a Healthy Pipeline: Encouraging CS Undergraduates from U.S. Institutions to Consider Graduate School and Careers in Research

August 26th, 2014

The following is a special contribution to this blog by CCC Council Member Ran Libeskind-Hadas and CRA Board Member Susanne Hambrusch, Co-Chairs of CRA-E.

PastedGraphic-2The CRA Education Committee’s (CRA-E) mission is to address society’s need for a continuous supply of talented and well-educated computing researchers.  The committee’s efforts include both research on the state of the “domestic student pipeline” and developing resources to maintain its health.

The fraction of Ph.D. students who are domestic (U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents) has been in decline over the last several decades from around 70% in the mid-1980’s to under 50% in recent years.  A 2013 CRA-E report shows that a small number of departments have accounted for most of the production of domestic undergraduates going on to Ph.D. programs:  From 2000 to 2010, approximately 50% of Ph.D.’s awarded to domestic students come from 54 institutions of baccalaureate origin and the other 50% come from over 747 institutions.

Evidence suggests that many CS graduate programs find it increasingly difficult to recruit domestic students to their Ph.D. programs.  A recent CRA-E study examined over 7000 graduate admissions records from domestic students made to 14 departments between 2007 and 2013.  While the average admission rate for domestic students in this group was 35%, the range was wide.  The average domestic admission rates for schools ranked 1-10 (by U.S. News and World Report) was 25% and the average for schools ranked 11-70 was about 50%, with a range from 29% to 70%.  The data also showed that undergraduates from Master’s institutions and RU/H schools are a significant source of applicants but are underrepresented in the set of admitted students.
The CRA-E and other groups have been working on a variety of ways to support the domestic graduate pipeline.  The new Conquer website  (COmputer ScieNce UndErgraduate Research) provides valuable resources for undergraduates and faculty mentors.  Among these are:

For Students…

  • Candid advice and resources on graduate school and how to apply.
  • Comprehensive resources for finding summer research positions.

For Faculty…

  • Resources for advising undergraduates on graduate school.
  • Resources for supervising undergraduates in research.
  • A full slide deck for a presentation entitled “Why Go To Graduate School?” (field tested at Purdue and Harvey Mudd)
  • A site for listing undergraduate summer research opportunities.

In addition, CRA-E will be holding workshops on “Best practices in mentoring undergraduate research” at major CS research conferences over the next two years.  The objective of the workshops is to help faculty – and particularly new faculty – to effectively engage undergraduates in research.  Some recent studies from CRA’s Center for Evaluating the Research Pipeline (CERP) suggest that well-designed research experiences can be formative for undergraduates and may be particularly effective in encouraging students to consider graduate school and careers in research.

Please help support our efforts by:

  • Telling your students and colleagues about the Conquer website and adding a link to the site from your webpage and your department’s page.
  • Encourage your colleagues to involve undergraduates in their research.
  • Offer at least one information session each year on graduate school and careers in research.  The Conquer site has a slide deck that can be used as-is or modified to your institution’s needs.

 

Conquer is a joint effort of the Computing Research Association (CRA), the education committee of CRA (CRA-E ), the Computing Community Consortium (CCC), Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research (CRA-W), the Coalition to Diversify Computing (CDC), and the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT).

 

New School Year Brings New Round of “CS Bits & Bytes”

September 11th, 2012

The first issue of NSF's CS Bits & Bytes for the 2012-13 academic year, published yesterday [image courtesy NSF].With the start of the 2012-13 school year, the National Science Foundation (NSF) yesterday released the first issue of the second volume of CS Bits & Bytes, focusing on biomimetic robotics, relating optimal control to the 2012 Summer Olympics. The issue highlights the work of Emanuel Todorov’s Movement Control Laboratory at the University of Washington, includes links to related videos, and contains a culminating activity that asks students to define performance metrics for sports, helping them realize all that must go into optimal control and performance.

CS Bits & Bytes is a biweekly newsletter developed to make computer science more accessible to educators and learners around the world. Each issue of CS Bits & Bytes highlights innovative computer science research, often at the intersection with other disciplines, and includes profiles of the individuals who do this exciting work, links for further exploration, and interactive activities. During the first year of production, over 1000 subscribers from more than 17 countries used the newsletter to enhance computer science education.

» Read more: New School Year Brings New Round of “CS Bits & Bytes”

Computer Science Course Now Online at the Khan Academy

August 15th, 2012

An example of Khan Academy's new web portal, teaching computer science through interactive drawing [image courtesy Khan Academy via TechCrunch].Last month at the Computing Research Association’s (CRA) biennial Snowbird Conference, a session titled “Reflections on Teaching Massive Online Open Courses” featured Peter Norvig from Google and Salman Khan (via Skype) from the Khan Academy discussing the recent transformation taking place in education.

Well, yesterday, the Khan Academy launched a brand new portal that aims to teach computer science through interactive drawing. The tutorials on the new Khan website are focused on computing for today’s youth, beginning prior to high school and concluding just before a college-level introductory computer science course.

Check out a video describing the new CS education portal after the jump:

» Read more: Computer Science Course Now Online at the Khan Academy