I agree that we should not limit it to “small”. I also think that where the program/department lies is also not a good indicator. There are some strong liberal arts CS programs (including mine) that reside in a school of engineering. University structural decisions are made for many different reasons.
Our definition needs to focus on the goals/outcomes of the programs not the structures of the institutions.
One thing that comes to my mind that has yet to be discussed is that typically liberal art majors are small enough to allow students to pursue additional interests (other majors/minors). I might suggest that the end of the definition (or an area that explains it) says something to that fact. This type of degree does not focus solely on what makes a person a “great” professional computer scientist but allows the students to be more well-rounded and pursue additional areas of interest.
I am not great at “word-smithing”. So instead of suggesting precise wording, I will keep my comments to general areas that I think might/should be addressed. I will let others better skilled in that area figure out how to express the ideas in a concise/clear/etc. language.
From: SIGCSE-LIBARTS-COMM [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Lillian (Boots) Cassel
Sent: Monday, March 14, 2016 11:58 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: First Steps for SIGCSE Liberal Arts Committee
Many thanks to Doug and everyone involved in starting this discussion.
With respect to some of the questions that form the core of this message, I hope we can be as inclusive as possible. I am in the Department of Computing Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Villanova. We are not a small college, and some of the questions seemed appropriate for small colleges. That is a good question theme, but will not be for all of us.
When we have visits by parents and possible students, I like to explain why I think it is a good thing that we are in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, rather than the College of Engineering. We have a strong, accredited computer science program that brings all the benefits of a liberal arts education combined with a technical degree.
I am very interested in understanding better the ways that computer science contributes to and benefits from the liberal arts context.
We have a couple of interesting interdisciplinary activities. One involves a collaboration between a machine translation course and an advanced, required, course in French Writing and Stylistics. The two courses run independently, but meet in adjacent rooms at the same time and do joint projects. What other examples are there of interesting joint activities?
L N Cassel, Ph.D.
Professor and Chair
Department of Computing Sciences
800 Lancaster Avenue
Villanova PA 19085-1699
610 519 7341
On Mon, Mar 14, 2016 at 12:30 PM, Douglas Baldwin <[log in to unmask]<mailto:[log in to unmask]>> wrote:
Greetings, and welcome (if you haven't already been welcomed) to the SIGCSE committee on computing education in liberal arts colleges. Thanks to everyone who came to our gathering at SIGCSE. I was pleasantly surprised at how big that was (35 - 40 people), and at the enthusiasm the folks there showed for the committee's job. Alyce Brady took some good notes on the conversation, which are the basis for this message.
Much of the conversation was about what the committee might do, and another theme that kept popping up was the question of just what we will mean by the phrase "liberal arts." These are basically the first two things we need to work on in any case, so the first thing I want to do is set the following agenda for the next couple of months. Please consider yourselves charged to use this mailing list to discuss your ideas about the following 2 items:
1. What we mean by "liberal arts." There is temporary definition in the committee's goals and focus statement (http://sigcse.org/sigcse/programs/committees/liberal), roughly "liberal arts college" as a place that emphasizes liberal education -- in the words of the goals and focus, "a post-secondary institution that emphasizes education for the breadth of graduates' career, civic, and personal lives, in contrast to institutions that focus on more narrow preparation (e.g., for a specific profession)." But this is only one of many definitions bouncing around. Another I've seen boils down to a college that emphasizes disciplines in the arts, humanities, and sciences over disciplines in more professional areas, and another amounts to colleges that fit an institutional profile of being small, undergraduate, and (usually) private. We absolutely do *not* have to use the definition from the goals and focus statement. There's a lot of overlap between definitions and their implications, but there are also enough differences that if we don't adopt some statement of what we will mean by the term, we're likely to find ourselves talking past each other as we get down to the real work.
2. We also need to identify a set of issues that we will concentrate on. Again, the goals and focus statement mentions two, but a lot of others came up in conversation at SIGCSE. If we have a manageable set of these in place by, say, mid-June (not at all accidentally, a date that most of us in the US can equate to "about when my semester/quarter ends," whichever kind of calendar you use, and that I hope any non-US participants can equate to some similar calendar milestone) we can use the summer to start gathering whatever data we need to shape answers. The questions from the goals and focus statement are
- Is there a need for an organization that can be the "voice" of liberal arts colleges in larger discussions of computing education? If so, how might such an organization be set up, and what can this committee do to "pass the torch" to it?
- Is there a need for a network that allows computing faculty at liberal arts colleges to share struggles, ideas, questions, etc. with each other?
Some things that were mentioned at SIGCSE, include
- Should there be a larger set of "exemplar" courses and curricula for liberal arts, as with ACM/IEEE CS2013, but perhaps only partially tied to it? Maybe not as formal as the CS2013 exemplars, simply a table of what courses/subjects different schools include. Even identifying the titles used for programs and courses would be helpful.
- Should there be a survey of issues facing liberal arts computing that departments can use in discussions with administrations? In particular, what are liberal arts computing programs seeing with enrollments today?
- In connection with such a survey, do we even know who the "liberal arts computing" people are? Should we try to systematically identify them?
- Should there be a liberal arts analog of ABET to "accredit" liberal arts computing programs (this was explicitly identified as an out-of-the-box, thinking-at-the-limits, question by the person who posed it)
- How do we communicate the advantages of teaching computing in the liberal arts to others? For instance, to graduate students who might be potential faculty? To potential students for our own programs?
- Are there things that could be done to help liberal arts schools trying to start computing programs?
And finally, moving on from immediate actions, a few other notes from the SIGCSE gathering: Most important, this is supposed to be a very inclusive committee. Regardless of what definition of "liberal arts" we end up with, anyone who is interested in that kind of computing education is welcome to participate. As of SIGCSE, we had about 80 people subscribed to the mailing list, and more have joined since -- my guess is that we're at 90 or 95 now. We should try to get all of us wearing "ask me about liberal arts computing" ribbons at the next SIGCSE. Speaking of next SIGCSE, it would be nice for us to have some preliminary report that can be delivered at a special session or similar. This would be based on discussions this spring and data gathered over the summer. A final version can include feedback from SIGCSE 2017 and might appear as a report in Inroads or similar later in the year.
Thanks again for joining the committee. Let the conversation begin!
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