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Amanda Holland-Minkley <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 8 Jun 2016 17:06:53 +0000
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I agree – a great and thorough summary document. Thank you for putting all of this together Grant!

I spent some time reading through the summary last night and I agree it would be interesting to find a way to compare some of these results to those of non-liberal arts programs. I pulled up the latest ACM Non-Doctoral Granting Departments in Computing survey to see if it might be useful (it’s at http://www.acm.org/education/ndc2014-15.pdf), and it does have a lot of data about enrollments, student composition, types of degrees, and faculty demographics, though it doesn’t seem to have the sorts of details we collected about the composition of the various degrees and how they are situated within the larger institution. Still, it might be a starting point to compare our summary to that report and see if there are any interesting deviations in the places where the data is comparable.

Digging into some of the data in the summary, I was drawn to the tables about major requirements as a percentage of graduation requirements. I’ve spent the past two years leading my school through writing and adopting a new college-wide general education curriculum so I’ve personally spent a lot of time mapping out whether our general education requirements leave space for all majors and how early students would have to start those majors. My observation has been that, in the abstract, people like the rule of thumb that a liberal arts curriculum should break down to one-third general education courses, one-third courses towards a major, one-third free electives (which may evolve into a second major). In practice, however, majors from across my institution seem to be gradually getting larger, and I’ve seen none getting smaller. But from this data, the percentages from the CS BA degrees are pretty close to that “ideal” of one-third. So I see a great message from this data that many programs are fitting a CS BA into the constrained number of courses permitted for majors at many liberal arts institutions. Grant’s observation later in the document about the wide variation between what proportion of courses in a major count towards general education requirements suggests that there may also be a variety of strategies for co-existing with general education requirements that could be interesting to explore. Collecting and sharing more of this type of information, perhaps through “show and tell” sessions like Doug describes, could be one way to do that. Or we might even consider further work trying to summarize the range of those programs’ requirements, building on the information we already have now about how mathematics fits into various majors.

Finally, this got me thinking again about the question of a long-term successor to the committee. I already thought there was some evidence for interest in a more permanent group from the number of people who showed up at the meeting at SIGCSE and from some conversations I’ve had with people at various liberal arts institutions. Looking at the survey results, we’ve continued expanding our list of the unique challenges and opportunities of computing as a liberal arts discipline, which gives us grounds for identifying that there is something particular for this community to discuss. The survey also seems to indicate that many of the programs offering these majors have a relatively small number of faculty. To me, this says that liberal arts computing education not only has unique challenges, but also often takes places in smaller departments where the faculty may have less immediate access to a peer group of colleagues addressing those same challenges. So a permanent organization with visibility and official connection to ACM or SIGCSE (not quite sure how that would work…) could provide a community to those more isolated educators. It jumped out to me that there were multiple comments about the difficulty of communicating about what we do – within our institution, to colleagues in other departments, to our students, etc. Pooling our resources to share methods we’ve found to effectively communicate or possibly even to share data or materials could be a contribution.

So those are just the initial thoughts I had after looking at the survey results. I’m curious what portions of this jumped out as thought provoking to others!

- 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 Douglas Baldwin
Sent: Wednesday, June 8, 2016 9:50 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Summary of Responses to Computing Majors in the Liberal Arts Survey

Very interesting, and very thorough. Paints an interesting picture of computing as a liberal arts program -- although one of the most interesting things may be that there really doesn't seem to be a single picture, there's quite a range of programs represented. Thanks for doing this!
Reading over the summary got me thinking about lots of possible follow-ups. It would be very helpful in planning this committee's next steps to hear thoughts about which of these seem important to others, which you think we should work on, any inspirations you got about follow-up, etc.
- How do these numbers compare to "non-liberal arts" computing programs (however those might be defined)? Are there identifiable features that set the liberal arts programs apart? Does anyone know if there are already data on some of these questions for other subsets of computer science, or for the discipline as a whole? (e.g., the Taulbee survey covers some of it for doctoral departments, I could imagine -- but don't personally know of -- some Dept. of Education database somewhere that might cover some of it for whatever DEd defines "computer science" to be, etc.)
- As I mentioned a couple of months ago, this committee has a finite lifetime, and I'm particularly interested in what it will leave as its legacy. Are there themes in the comments and challenges at the end of the survey that are ongoing tasks/recommendations for the computing education community generally, or for some long-term successor to this committee? Are there problems that we can propose/test solutions to? (What? Leave things better than we found them? That would be a radical step for a committee to take.... :-)
- Reading some of the questions and responses reminded me of a tradition in the LACS group of a "show and tell" session in its annual meeting. This is a session in which each person gives a ca 15 minute summary of developments in their department, often touching on things like enrollments and number of graduates, teaching loads, faculty hiring, changes in program requirements, etc. This is a very popular session, in part because it gives people a chance to see how their situation compares to others, and in part because it happens every year and so provides some way to see how things are changing with time. I got that first sense (how my program compares to others) very strongly with this survey, and found myself wondering about the second -- would people like to see something like this survey as a recurring thing? If so, what do you think a recurring survey should look like?
Thanks again, Grant, for running this, and everyone who filled it out. Looking forward to more comments.

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