Researchers at WSU, Auburn University, and the University of Hawaii have received a National Science Foundation grant to develop, test, and disseminate new methods for teaching computer science to undergraduates.
 
Traditionally, computer science courses have been based on teaching traditions in the mathematical sciences, and have thus maintained a strong focus on teaching programming and programming languages.
 
Led by Chris Hundhausen, associate professor in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at WSU, the researchers are adapting a studio-based teaching approach from the field of architecture to teach computing fundamentals  and increase student success.
 
While demand for computer scientists has continued to increase in the workforce, student interest in computer science has decreased dramatically in recent years. Furthermore, the field of computer science has been changing, demanding skills in problem-solving, design, communications, and interdisciplinary work, in addition to programming skills.
 
“The demand for college graduates with computing skills continues to rise. However, such skills no longer equate to mere programming skills; indeed, modern day computing jobs demand design, communication, and collaborative work skills as well,’’ says Hundhausen. “There is a need for a fundamental rethinking of undergraduate computing education.’’
 
At three universities, Hundhausen, along with colleagues N. Hari Narayanan and Martha Crosby,  is using “design crits’’ as a means of learning about computing. In architecture, students are given a problem. They then get together in a studio space, where they do drawings and then build models of their project.
 
At the same time, they actively engage with other students and faculty during the design process. During the “design crit,” students present their designs for feedback and discussion.
 
In the computer science courses, the researchers are exploring ways of having students construct their own solutions to computing problems, and present those solutions to their peers for feedback and discussion. As in architecture, students develop a collaborative relationship among the students; they are required to develop their solutions in pairs, rather than alone. The students also use their solutions as a means of talking with peers and faculty about computing concepts.
 
Based on the early success of the work, the new grant allows the researchers to conduct more rigorous study of their methods as well as pass along information about their methods to other computer science programs around the country. In particular, the researchers are assessing three introductory computer science classes, so that students in each of these classes will either receive a studio-based or a traditional approach.
 
Their success and attrition rates will be compared. In the first year, the researchers will hold regional workshops at the three universities participating in the study, the University of Hawaii, Auburn University and WSU. During the second year, they will hold a workshop at a national conference.