News, University News

Computer science to offer new introductory track

Track to consist of three courses over three semesters, support department’s growth

Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The computer science department will add a new introductory track in fall 2018, starting with CSCI 0111: “Computing Foundations: Data.” The new sequence will consist of three courses taught over three semesters and will provide students with a less intensive option.

CSCI 0111 will be taught by Research Professor of Computer Science Kathi Fisler, who joined the department in July 2017. The course, capped for enrollment at 62, will serve as an alternative to the current introductory pathways, CSCI 0150: “Introduction to Object-Oriented Programming and Computer Science” followed by CSCI 0160: “Introduction to Algorithms and Data Structures,” and CSCI 0170: “Computer Science: An Integrated Introduction” followed by CSCI 0180: “Computer Science: An Integrated Introduction,” as well as the accelerated one-course introductory class, CSCI 0190: “Accelerated Introduction to Computer Science.”

All of these classes aim to cover the same material upon completion of the track to equally prepare students for upper-level classes. “The new three-course sequence has to meet that same ending point; it’s just going to do it in a different way,” Fisler said, adding that reaching this point is crucial if students eventually aim to declare a CS concentration.

Fisler said that when speaking to prospective teaching assistants for the course, many felt that they “would have taken a class like this.” Many students face time commitments in athletics and extracurriculars, barring them from enrolling in the current time-intensive introductory tracks, she added.

In recent years, the CS department has experienced ever-increasing growth. CS surpassed economics as the most popular concentration this year, The Herald previously reported. This is a nationwide phenomenon that extends beyond the University, said Thomas Doeppner, associate professor of CS and vice chair of the department. “Not all that long ago … our graduating class was around 40 to 50 students. … This year, we are expecting around 240 at commencement,” Doeppner said. The increased interest is driven in part by the fact that “computers permeate all of society. … People perceive this is where the jobs are,” he said.

The addition of the new track “isn’t coming around strictly in response to growth,” Fisler said. “It’s more accurate that it’s coming about as we are better understanding the population that’s coming into CS,” she added.

The students signing up for introductory CS classes are no longer solely those who intend to concentrate in the subject, as was more prevalent in the past, he added. Today, some hope to concurrently explore other concentrations and are thus concerned about the workload, Doeppner said.

The department hopes that the course will attract students from other fields. “A general theme in the department and also a trend in CS … is to reach out and address other disciplines,” Doeppner said.

Fisler added that some students hope to apply CS to their work in digital media, art and the humanities.

“It’s always good to have more options,” said Kielan Donahue ’20, vice president of the CS departmental undergraduate group. Donahue took the CSCI 0170/0180 introductory path, which built upon her programming experience from AP Computer Science in high school. “Some people I know went into (CSCI 0170) with absolutely no CS background, so it’s really impressive that the class can (serve) both sets of people,” she said.

While it has always been possible to enter CS classes with little background knowledge, “sometimes, it’s a bit intimidating,” Doeppner said, given the workload and time commitments the current introductory CS program expects of students. The new sequence aims to offer students a separate, slower-paced and “gentler” introduction to the field, he added.

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