Strategic Directions in Computer Science Education

Allen B. Tucker, Moderator
Bowdoin College
Computer Science Department
Brunswick, ME 04011 USA
Roy Rada
Washington State University
EE/CS Department
Pullman, WA 99164 USA
Eric Roberts
Stanford University
Computer Science Department
Stanford, CA 94305 USA
Peter Wegner
Brown University
Computer Science Department
Providence, RI 02912USA

Abstract: This panel will discuss major issues and challenges in computer science education across a wide range of institutions. It originates from a report developed by the Education Working Group of the Strategic Directions in Computing Research (SDCR) Workshop. That report appears in its entirety in the ACM Computing Surveys issue [Wegner96] which is distributed to all attendees to this SIGCSE 97 conference.) In this panel, we will discuss the general aims and accomplishments of the SDCR conference, highlighting the specific recommendations of the Education Working Group. We will outline ideas for improving the quality and effectiveness of computer science programs at the undergraduate, graduate, and K-12 levels. We will also argue for the creation of a Resource Center for developing and distributing computer science and engineering curricular materials, including the idea of developing a "Virtual Computing University."

The SDCR Workshop

The Strategic Directions in Computing Research (SDCR) Workshop took place in June 1996 at MIT, and was attended by over 200 computing researchers across the wide range of subject areas within computer science and engineering. Each subject area was represented by a 10-20 person working group, whose charge was to identify the strategic issues and directions that should drive its subject area into the next millenium. Each working group developed a report that summarizes its findings, and the collected working group reports are published in the December 1996 issue of Computing Surveys[Wegner96]. Identified below are subject areas that were addressed in the SDCR Workshop.

Artificial intelligence; Computational geometry; Computational science; Computer architecture; Concurrency; Constraint programming; Databases; Education; Electronic commerce and digital libraries; Grand challenges; Formal methods; Human Computer Interaction; Micro electro-mechanical systems (MEMS); Object-oriented programming; Parallel and distributed computation; Programming Languages; Real time; Software Engineering and Programming Languages; Software quality; Storage I/O issues in large-scale computation; Telecommunications; Theory of Computing.

The Education Working Group Recommendations

Computer science remains a rapidly evolving discipline [Tucker96], which places considerable pressure on the CS&E curriculum. The emergence of new tools, techniques, and paradigms forces a continual reevaluation of the topics covered and the pedagogical approaches used. Often, the CS&E curriculum and its faculty become outdated as the core ideas in the discipline and its technology advances.

At the undergraduate level, issues include: the balance between research and teaching, faculty currency in the discipline; sufficient consideration for the needs of industry; integration of topics in the theory of computing with practical topics in the curriculum; the management of large classes; acceptance of professional education by the academy; the development of teaching methods, lab materials, and technologies that appeal to a wide range of student interests and values; and the regular upgrading of service courses for nonmajors.

At the graduate level, issues include: satisfying increasing industry demand for MS degrees in computing; acceptance of part-time and evening professional education as a regular part of the academy; addressing the needs of new Ph.D.s who are hired by departments that emphasize teaching; and improving the teaching skills of many of the faculty who teach in PhD-granting departments.

At the K-12 level, issues include: a serious need for a coherent secondary school curriculum in computer science for the general population; better mechanisms to train teachers in principles of computer science and the new technology, and to keep them up to date with changes in the field; the huge gap between the technological "haves" and "have-nots"; and the need for new channels of communication and support between college-level and pre-college educators in order to address shared issues.

Coordination and communication across the computer science education community should be improved. The Education Board and SIGCSE should take leadership roles in developing new communication channels, so that shared curricular concerns can be more effectively discussed across all levels and interested communities.

A Resource Center for Computer Science Education

To help address many of the problems cited above, we recommend the gradual development of a distributed, Internet-based center, tentatively called the CS&E Education Center, that would collect and promote the distribution of materials relevant to computer science education. The services provided by the CS&E Education Center would include: a resource center for course and curriculum development; a repository of successful programming assignments and laboratory exercises; a centralized test-question data bank and scoring service; a library of educational tools and demonstration software; a clearinghouse for student opportunities; a "virtual university" to support distance education; and a storehouse of educational models for other disciplines.

A Virtual University

A "virtual university" to support distance education could provide both the technology and the infrastructure to conduct courses remotely, including lectures, discussions, and laboratory components. A fully developed distance-education process would include certifiable study-from-home, virtual faculty or student exchange programs, virtual guest lectures, cooperative coursework among remote student groups, student-initiated courses (like those at MIT) with a remote instructor, virtual visits to libraries, research facilities, and archives, remote internships with business/industry sponsors, in-service and pre-service courses for secondary school and college teachers at remotely located institutions, and so on.

Education Working Group Members

Owen Astrachan, Duke University; Kim Bruce, Williams College; Robert Cupper, Allegheny College; Peter Denning, George Mason University; Scot Drysdale, Dartmouth College; Tom Horton, Florida Atlantic University; Charles Kelemen, Swarthmore College; Cathy McGeoch, Amherst College; Yale Patt, University of Michigan; Viera Proulx, Northeastern University; Roy Rada, Washington State University; Richard Rasala, Northeastern University; Eric Roberts, Stanford University; Steven Rudich, Carnegie Mellon University; Lynn Stein, MIT; Allen Tucker, Bowdoin College (Chair) Charles Van Loan, Cornell University


Allen B. Tucker and Peter Wegner. Computer Science and Engineering: the Discipline and Its Impact. in Tucker, Allen B. (ed), CRC Handbook of Computer Science and Engineering. CRC Press, Boca Raton, 1997.
Wegner, Peter (ed), ACM Computing Surveys 28(4), ACM, New York, 1996.