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
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
"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
- 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
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
- 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
- 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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