Updates: Developing the University of Michigan LSA Program in Computing for the Arts and Science

February 22, 2022 at 7:00 am 7 comments

This blog is pretty old. I started it in June 2009 — almost 13 years ago. The pace of posting has varied from every day (today, I can’t understand how I ever did that!) to once every couple of months (most recently). There are things happening around here that are worth sharing and might be valuable to some readers, but I’m not finding much time to write. So, the posts the rest of this week will be quick updates with links for more information.

During most of the pandemic, I co-chaired (with Gus Evrard, a Physics professor and computational cosmologist) the Computing Education Task Force (website) for the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA). LSA is huge — about 20K students. (I blogged about this effort in April of last year.) Our job was to figure out what LSA was doing in computing education, and what else was needed. Back in November, I talked here about the three themes that we identified as computing education in LSA:

Our report was released last month. You can see the release statement here, and the full report here. It’s a big report, covering dozens of interviews, a hundred survey responses, and a huge effort searching over syllabi and course descriptions to find where computing is in LSA. We made recommendations about creating a new program, new courses, new majors and minors, and coordinating computing education across LSA.

Now, we’re in the next phase — acting on the recommendations. LSA bought me out of my teaching for this semester, and it’s my full-time job to define a computing education program for LSA and to create the first courses in the program. We’re calling it the Program for Computing in the Arts and Science (PCAS). I’m designing courses for the Computing for Expression and Computing for Justice themes, in an active dialogue (drawing on the participatory design methods I learned from Betsy DiSalvo) with advisors from across LSA. (There are courses in LSA that can serve as introductions to the Computing for Discovery theme, and Gus is leading the effort to coordinate them.) The plan is to put up the program this summer, and I’ll start teaching the new courses in the Fall.

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7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. alanone1  |  February 22, 2022 at 7:11 am

    Hi Mark

    Very exciting news (and PCAS looks like it will keep you busy!)

    Somewhere in the larger project should be something with deeply epistemological foundations and core perspectives.

    Also, I’ve been ruminating about the conflicts between really good curricula designs (even with great support) and the enormous difficulties with getting any kind of reform to actually happen. MACOS was a poster child for this, but you and I have both been involved in efforts that have failed because of the difficulties of deploying and training in the new ideas.

    In universities, to some extent at least, there can be new hiring for teaching the new ideas — but I have the strong feeling that this is not enough (the pushback of CS departments against CS but in favor of industry practices is a good example of whole institutions being bowled over by outside preferences).

    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  February 22, 2022 at 10:24 am

      Hi Alan,

      Thank you! We’re absolutely facing those issues, but from a different source than traditional CS programs. The computational artists want students to know Processing. The computational social scientists want students to know R. And so on.

      The strategy I’m pursuing right now is (1) to teach the concepts with Snap! using some of our Teaspoon languages as scaffolding, with (2) a handful of learning activities (every 2-3 weeks) explicitly to support transfer and integration into the community of practice. We’ve been building prototypes of these activities using the Runestone ebooks that Barb uses. We’ll be able to say in the ebook “Here’s this program you did in Snap. Here’s what it looks like in Processing. See how the syntax maps over? See how the big ideas are being expressed? Making this small tweak or answer this question about the Processing code.” The goal isn’t to teach Processing, R, or Python, but to encourage transfer (for a later course, perhaps) and support a sense of authenticity.

      I’m hoping that this compromise position (teach the concepts with blocks, encourage transfer into the community standards) will support learning and engender buy-in from the teachers we recruit.

      – Mark

      • 3. alanone1  |  February 22, 2022 at 10:44 am

        Hi Mark

        This could be a good way to at least get them using a few languages.

        I’m always hoping for ways to get some of the deep ideas of the modern world into all university curricula even if only in the required courses in the first few years.

  • 4. Carol Munn  |  February 22, 2022 at 7:15 am

    Wonderful and very exciting. I would really like to help out, please email me cmunn@brrsd.k12.nj.us Thanks Dr. Munn

  • 5. bh  |  February 23, 2022 at 5:58 pm

    Hey, Mark!

    Great that you’re using Snap!. Anything published about the curriculum that we could cite on our website?

    Here at Berkeley they’re talking about turning the newly-established “Division” of data science into a “College,” and moving the non-engineering CS major from the College of Letters and Sciences into this new one. There are pragmatic reasons for this (e.g., we don’t get as many CS faculty slots as we should for the number of L&S students we teach, and this would be improved in a Data Science college), and the social scientists, who are mostly on board with DS, won’t mind, but you’re making me wonder whether we’ve consulted the artists enough.

    • 6. Mark Guzdial  |  February 23, 2022 at 7:00 pm

      Hi Brian! We’re in very early days. I did some participatory design sessions, generated some draft documents, sent them around for comment, and am now preparing the formal documentation to get the courses approved by the curriculum committee. I’ll have the summer to get the courses organized, and then I’ll be teaching them (both of them) in the Fall. So, no, nothing published. It’ll be awhile before we do. The idea of creating a college and moving the non-Engineering CS major into it is really exciting! I’ll send you some more via email.

  • […] gave an update on the Program in Computing for the Arts and Sciences (PCAS) here in February (see blog post). Since then, it’s become real. I was hired as of July 1 as the Director of PCAS. My […]


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