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From:
Amanda Holland-Minkley <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Amanda Holland-Minkley <[log in to unmask]>
Date:
Wed, 16 Mar 2016 01:12:49 +0000
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Hi all – I’m excited about this conversation that we’re starting here!

I entirely agree that part of what makes something a liberal arts institution is the effect it has on one’s approach to teaching a topic, and the focus on interdisciplinary connections does seem important to me. In the most idealistic view, if I am teaching in a liberal arts setting, as an instructor I should walk into the classroom with a mindset that I am not just teaching my topic but I am also helping illuminate to my students how what they are learning relates to the rest of their education. So it isn’t just that the students will be expected to take courses from a breadth of disciplines, but I should also teach my courses in a way that help students discover the value of their broad educational experience.

This connects to another angle on what it means to be a liberal arts institution that I’ve been thinking about, which is the relationship that a program has to the institution as a whole. A few people have mentioned that majors will be of limited size to allow students to take a range of course, pursue a double major, etc. I think at many liberal arts institutions similar obligations are placed on programs to think about how they fit into the education of the student body as a whole, not just how they educate their majors/minors.

I suspect this can take a number of forms. At my own institution, when we review changes to major requirements for a program, we ask departments to confirm that they’ll continue to be able to contribute to the other educational obligations they have – to our first year seminar, to offering sufficient general education seats, etc. For smaller departments, this often means that, practically speaking, the curriculum has to be structured so that introductory offerings work for potential majors but also support the institution’s general education curriculum in order to make efficient use of faculty resources. In my particular case, our departmental mission explicitly states that we will contribute to the interdisciplinary uses of computing across the W&J curriculum, so we have to find ways to offer courses or take part in projects that meet those goals. Overall, this means that program curricula have to be balanced with the demands of our college-wide curriculum and made to work together. We can’t simply say that the ACM says our curriculum has to be a certain way; we have to take those recommendations and find a way to make them work with the various obligations the overarching liberal arts curriculum puts on us.

This last point is something that I think might be labeled as an “issue” from outside the liberal arts community, but I believe that it is actually an advantage. I think it helps us reach a wider range of students than we would otherwise and to provide a richer educational experience.

- Amanda

Dr. Amanda M. Holland-Minkley
Associate Professor, Computing and Information Studies
Washington & Jefferson College

From: SIGCSE-LIBARTS-COMM [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Janet Davis
Sent: Tuesday, March 15, 2016 4:16 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: First Steps for SIGCSE Liberal Arts Committee

Jessen, I very much agree that CS itself can be taught in a liberal arts fashion. I agree that a liberal arts approach to CS emphasizes foundational concepts and interdisciplinary connections. I would add that it also can mean study of multiple perspectives within the discipline, e.g., through learning multiple programming paradigms, so that students can solve problems from multiple points of view.

Janet

Jessen T. Havill wrote:


This is an exciting initiative.  Thanks to the organizers!

Beyond encouraging students to pursue a well-rounded education,
liberal arts colleges also have an opportunity to demonstrate how CS
itself can be taught in a more "well-rounded" way.  I am continually
surprised to see universities that still just teach coding in their CS
1 courses.  I think these first impressions matter, and tend to shape
how students view the discipline and their roles in it.  Many of us on
this list have found ways to introduce broader concepts and exciting
connections to other disciplines into our early courses.  Perhaps
these kinds of "exemplar" courses could be especially highlighted by
this group.

Jessen
---
Jessen T. Havill, Ph.D.
Benjamin Barney Chair of Mathematics
Professor of Computer Science
Department of Mathematics and Computer Science
Denison University
Granville, OH 43023

On Mar 14, 2016, at 2:54 PM, Walker, Ellen L. <[log in to unmask]
<mailto:[log in to unmask]<mailto:[log in to unmask]:[log in to unmask]>>> wrote:



I think the relatively small size of the major vs. availability of
space for electives, minors and maybe even a second major is
important to include in the definition.
Not only is this a defining characteristic, but also a reason why a
group like this is particularly useful in light of ever-expanding
lists of curricular requirements.



On Mar 14, 2016, at 2:35 PM, Lillian (Boots) Cassel <[log in to unmask]
<mailto:[log in to unmask]<mailto:[log in to unmask]:[log in to unmask]>>> wrote:

I agree with your assessment, Cathy.
Focus on outcomes is a good way to get to the essence of the liberal
arts environment.  The well-roundedness of our graduates is
certainly a key element.  I don't think small is necessary for that,
but a commitment of a good relationship between the faculty and the
students and a dedication to producing a well-rounded, well
developed person is important.

Boots

L N Cassel, Ph.D.
Professor and Chair
Department of Computing Sciences
Villanova University
800 Lancaster Avenue
Villanova  PA  19085-1699
http://csc.villanova.edu/~cassel <http://csc.villanova.edu/%7Ecassel>

610 519 7341

On Mon, Mar 14, 2016 at 2:10 PM, Cathy Bareiss <[log in to unmask]
<mailto:[log in to unmask]<mailto:[log in to unmask]:[log in to unmask]>>> wrote:

    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.

    Cathy Bareiss

    *From:*SIGCSE-LIBARTS-COMM
    [mailto:[log in to unmask]
    <mailto:[log in to unmask]><mailto:[log in to unmask]   %20%3cmailto:[log in to unmask]>] *On Behalf Of
    *Lillian (Boots) Cassel
    *Sent:* Monday, March 14, 2016 11:58 AM
    *To:* [log in to unmask]<mailto:[log in to unmask]>
    <mailto:[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?

    Boots


    L N Cassel, Ph.D.

    Professor and Chair
    Department of Computing Sciences
    Villanova University
    800 Lancaster Avenue
    Villanova  PA  19085-1699
    http://csc.villanova.edu/~cassel
    <http://csc.villanova.edu/%7Ecassel>

    610 519 7341 <tel:610%20519%207341>

    On Mon, Mar 14, 2016 at 12:30 PM, Douglas Baldwin
    <[log in to unmask] <mailto:[log in to unmask]<mailto:[log in to unmask]:[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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Ellen Walker
Associate Dean
Professor of Computer Science
Hiram College
PO Box 67
Hiram, OH 44234
Ph: 330-569-5250
[log in to unmask]<mailto:[log in to unmask]> <mailto:[log in to unmask]>





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