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Computer Science Program Hatching New Ideas for Education

Computer Science Program Hatching New Ideas for Education

Two students engage in a computer science lab.

Boise State University’s Department of Computer Science is one of seven engineering and computer science departments across the country to receive a five-year, $2 million Revolutionizing Engineering Departments (RED) award from the National Science Foundation. The project is titled “Computer Science Professionals Hatchery: An Ecosystem for Nurturing the Next Generation of Computer Science Professionals.”

NSF RED awards focus on transforming engineering and computer science departments in order to stimulate revolutionary improvements in engineering education.

Tim Andersen, Computer Science, Studio Portrait,

Tim Andersen

Boise State’s project lead is Tim Andersen, chair of the computer science department. Other team members include Amit Jain and Dian Xiang Xu, faculty in the Department of Computer Science; Noah Salzman, an engineering education researcher and assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the IDoTeach program; Don Winiecki, a social scientist and professor in the Department of Organizational Performance and Workplace Learning; and Carl Siebert, external evaluator for the project and assistant professor in the College of Education. Marissa Schmidt, Jim Conrad, Matt Thomas, Donna Llewellyn and Susan Shadle also are involved in the project.

The project will create an educational environment called the Computer Science Professionals Hatchery, or CSP-hatchery. Research has shown that successful computer science graduates need to have more than just technical skills – they also must have strong communication, teamwork and project management skills. Entrepreneurship and business savvy also are highly desirable and sought-after skillsets in a software developer. By giving computer science graduates the skills they need to succeed in industry, they will be better prepared for the professional world.

The RED award allows Boise’s CSP-hatchery to greatly enhance computer sciences courses to model the best practices of software development companies, layering in moral, ethical and social threads with entrepreneurship and professional skills. The ultimate goal is to develop an industry-relevant and agile curriculum that produces graduates who are not only technically adept and effective team members, but also trained and empowered to be leaders in industry.

Andersen and his team will work with partners from local industry to identify the core skills necessary for student success and develop ways to thread them through the curriculum. The core skills that can be introduced and covered in a more condensed manner — such as software tools or agile development — will become major topics for the computer science professional “hatchery” units. These professional hatchery units are short, condensed and nimble courses taught over a few weeks, with some content offered online.

Students engage in a computer science lab.“Software industry professionals throughout the Treasure Valley were invited and have eagerly agreed to join us in the teaching effort and development of our hatchery courses, giving our students, early in their education at Boise State, unprecedented access to software companies in our area,” Andersen said. “We can then take these newly developed hatchery units and thread them into subsequent curriculum.”

The university’s Venture College, which provides students with the resources and mentoring needed to launch entrepreneurial projects, also will work with students who participate in the hatchery units.

An additional goal is to apply hatchery principles to senior capstone projects. Seniors will be paired as mentors with freshmen, sophomores or juniors to work with and teach skills that can be applied to real world projects.

“This model replicates a company environment extremely well so that when students transition to industry where it’s necessary to integrate with outside teams, it’s not as big a stretch,” Andersen said.

In addition, the Department of Computer Sciences’ new location in downtown Boise, slated to open this fall, will help make the curriculum more relevant as students have more opportunities to interact with industry partners.

The project already has attracted interest from several industry partners, including Hewlett-Packard, Clearwater Analytics, Cradlepoint, Micron Technology, White Cloud Analytics, J.R. Simplot Company, and more.

This is just the latest in a number of awards supporting science, technology, engineering and math education at Boise State, including a five-year NSF grant from 2009 coordinated by engineering professor Janet Callahan to increase the number of STEM bachelor’s degrees awarded by the university, and a three-year WIDER-PERSIST grant, also funded by the NSF, aimed at spurring more active and productive learning.

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