MAILED: June 19, 1997|
EAU CLAIRE -- Computer science majors at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire will work on new equipment in the fall, thanks to a $51,745 grant from the National Science Foundation.
UW-Eau Claire will match the NSF grant almost dollar-for-dollar, bringing the total investment in new equipment to more than $100,000, said Dr. Michael Wick, associate professor of computer science.
"This is going to help us change the focus of our curriculum," Wick said of the estimated 25 computers. "We're going to be able to give the students a more complete idea of what it means to be a computer scientist."
During the last four years, the computer science department has been revamping its curriculum in an effort to attract and retain quality students, Wick said. With the number of majors up from about 125 to about 200, the plan seems to be working, he said, noting that faculty now want to build on those early successes.
Among the goals of the revised curriculum is to enhance students' understanding of computer science by instilling in them an appreciation for the conceptual links between the principles and techniques of the areas within the discipline. But the successful implementation of this approach requires substantial infrastructure, faculty say.
In their NSF grant proposal, Wick and Dr. Jack Tan, assistant professor of computer science, state that the new equipment will help the department accomplish its goals in three ways:
- Integrate courses to present material within the context of a discipline-wide conceptual map.
- Design courses to focus student learning on specific portions of complete and realistic projects that demonstrate a synergism of concepts and techniques from multiple areas within computer science.
- Deliver the content and projects of the upper-division curriculum through a medium that nurtures and supports collaborative team learning.
"Students do not experience, and often fail to appreciate, the synergetic integration of topics that occur during the analysis, design and implementation of practical computer science applications," Wick and Tan stated in their proposal. "We are proposing that legacy learning, which emphasizes the structured recycling of senior (legacy) projects back into the curriculum, provides a forum for reducing the level of segmentation in undergraduate computer science education."
The Software Design and Analysis and Computer Science Practicum sequence taken by UW-Eau Claire computer science majors during their senior year requires the completion of a software project including requirement specification, design documentation, implementation and testing. The legacy learning design will recycle the best of the projects from the year-long capstone sequence back into the undergraduate curriculum. Graduating seniors will leave behind a legacy in the form of a complete senior software project that integrates several fields from within computer science. Projects in upper division courses will focus on the re-creation, improvement, maintenance and/or replacement of pieces of legacy systems, all within the context of an integrated software system.
"Legacy learning will enable each generation of computer science students to learn from the successes, mistakes and insights of previous generations," Wick and Tan stated.
Requiring students to work on projects that will be built on by future students will encourage them to take more seriously the need to do things such as providing documentation for their programs, Wick said.
"Students will leave something behind with their name on it," Wick said. "There is a certain pride that will ensure they do a good job if they know others will be working with it."
In addition, Wick said, the legacy approach will help students demonstrate to potential employers their ability to work on real and complex problems. Also, he said, faculty hope to involve some of those potential employers in the projects. "This will give seniors real work experience in their last semester," he said.
Changes in the program have been partly based on feedback from employers of alumni from the program, Wick said. While graduates are finding jobs, employers have indicated that there are things the department can do differently to enhance students' preparation for working in the field of computer science, he said, adding that all 22 May graduates of the program have jobs.
Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: July 2, 1997