Background and Motivation
Research in computer science at Michigan began in 1949, with a project led by Assistant Professor of Philosophy Arthur Brooks. After the UM Statistical Research Lab acquired our first on-campus computer, new Assistant Professor of Mathematics Bernard Galler taught LSA’s first course in programming – Math 73 – in 1956. Burks and Speech Professor Gordon Peterson launched a graduate program in Communication Science the following year. Their first Ph.D. student, John Holland, graduated in 1959. Holland went on to become Professor of Psychology, Complex Systems, and Computer Science at Michigan, and an icon of interdisciplinary science-inspired and enabled by computation.
In 1961, LSA expanded the Communication Science program to add an undergraduate degree, and in 1964 a Department of Communication Sciences was launched. It became Computer and Communication Sciences (CCS) in 1968. It was not until 1984 that the LSA CCS program was brought together with COE graduate programs to create the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department. While EECS has ever since been fully responsible for the CS program, the degree remained an LSA one. This unique arrangement creates significant tensions. The College of Engineering seeks to train computer science professionals, while LSA students seek to develop computational expertise as part of a broad liberal arts education.
Today, computing is ubiquitous in disciplinary practice and society at large. Far more people use programming as a tool in their professions than practice programming as the focus of their profession. LSA graduates will put computers to work in their careers and their lives. We have a responsibility to prepare all LSA students to use these new computational literacies at the highest levels. We want them prepared to magnify their voices and lead with a reflective practice that recognizes both the power and the perils of computational technologies.
Launching an LSA Computing Education Task Force
To help the University of Michigan to meet this responsibility, the LSA Dean’s office will create an ad hoc LSA Computing Education Task Force (CETF), charged with imagining a program that could prepare all LSA students to gain and leverage computational literacy. This preparation should take place at multiple levels. All students should achieve some basic competency; others should have opportunities to focus on these topics at the level of academic minors and majors. This work must be situated within the context of other computational learning opportunities taking place at Michigan, especially in the College of Engineering and the School of Information.
The Task Force is charged with three primary goals:
- Explore what computing is being taught to LSA students, and to whom, and identify unmet needs.
Computing already plays an important role in many LSA classes, but there has not been a college-wide effort to (a) identify the computing knowledge and skills needed by LSA students and (b) explore whether and how we are meeting those needs through learning experiences in existing classes. The task force is charged with surveying LSA to identify what is currently being taught about computing, who is participating in those learning opportunities, and what additional elements would most effectively advance LSA students’ computational literacy.
- Develop plans to provide computing education for LSA students.
Meeting students’ needs and considering their feedback for computing education will likely involve adding new learning opportunities to existing classes, creating entirely new classes, considering a distribution requirement, new majors, even new departments or programs. It will also involve collaboration with other schools and colleges. The task force is charged with proposing plans to ensure that future LSA graduates will be able to use computation to better understand the world, engage effectively with society, and lead responsibly. Their work should include input from LSA students, faculty, staff, and alumni. This input may come from advisory groups, surveys, town hall meetings, or other mechanisms that the CETF finds useful.
- Draft recommendations for implementation over a three year period. The task force should draft recommendations for implementing this plan over a three year period. These preliminary plans will be discussed by the LSA Executive Committee and used as a starting point for further development by the Associate Deans of the College, in collaboration with the Curriculum Committee and relevant LSA Departments and Programs.
Task Force Membership: This task force will include nine faculty members, with six from the College of LSA, two from the College of Engineering, and one from the School of Information.
Task Force Timetable and Support: As this task force is being launched during a global pandemic, we are particularly cognizant of costs and pace. We are all being asked to do more and different things than we have in the past. At the same time, the pandemic makes us even more aware of how critical computing and communications technologies are to our work, and our physical and mental health. We must prepare LSA students to use computation effectively in all aspects of their lives, and we cannot delay this effort.
Task Force members will be recruited in August 2020. The group will meet bi-weekly during the fall 2020 and winter 2021 semesters, delivering a report to the LSA Executive Committee by May 1, 2021. Associate Dean Tim McKay and the Undergraduate Education Advisory Group will meet with the Task Force three times a term to provide input and updates. Staff support for the Task Force will be provided by a part-time graduate assistant supported by the LSA Division of Undergraduate Education.