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X+CS: A Computing Pathway for Non-Computer Science Majors

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2020 Mid-Atlantic Spring Conference


Baltimore, Maryland

Publication Date

March 27, 2020

Start Date

March 27, 2020

End Date

March 28, 2020

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Susan Mitchell University of Maryland, Baltimore County

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Dr. Susan Mitchell is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). She holds a PhD in Information Systems from UMBC and a MS in Computer Science from The Johns Hopkins University. She has been a teaching faculty member in computer science for 27 years, with research in the areas of software process, software process improvement, knowledge management, and computer science education.

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Katharine Cole University of Maryland Baltimore County

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Dr. Katharine Cole has served as the UMBC Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Academic Affairs since 2017. Dr.Cole earned a Bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences from the University of Delaware, a Master’s degree in Zoology from the University of Northern Colorado and a Ph.D. in Pathology from the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Dr. Cole has served as an Assistant Dean of Graduate and Undergraduate Studies in the College of Arts andSciences at the University of South Florida, as a university-level Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies at the University of South Florida, and as Associate Provost at the University of Tampa. In her administrative roles she has overseen the general education curriculum, first year student programs, Bachelor degree program curricula, academic policy,Center for Teaching and Learning, Academic Success Centers as well as other student success offices and initiatives. In these roles Dr. Cole has worked collaboratively with deans and the faculty to developing high impact practices designed to provide undergraduate students with equal opportunities to gain knowledge and skills by integrating multiple disciplines in a meaningful way. Prior to her administrative roles, Dr. Cole’s research interests were in the broad area of the anti-neoplastic mechanisms of novel chemotherapeutic compounds, specifically targeting the role of inositol hexaphosphate (IP6) in cell cycle regulation and cellular differentiation in malignant and benign human neoplastic cells. She has published twenty-two peer-reviewed papers, holds two patents related to replicative human liver cell line, has been the principle investigator/co-PI on five grants from non-profit organizations and has mentored 4 master/doctoral students. During her time in faculty positions at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the University of South Florida, she taught nine different courses in the areas of human physiology, human pathology and biological imaging. Dr. Cole’s professional development as a scientist and an educator has provided her with an innovative perspective and an ability to critically analyze meaningful data as well as the organizational aptitude necessary to successfully accomplish new university strategic academic initiatives and develop strategic academic programs that benefit the university community.

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Anupam Joshi UMBC

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With computing impacting most every professional field, it has become essential to provide pathways for students other than those majoring in computer science to acquire computing knowledge and skills. Virtually all employers and graduate and professional schools seek these skills in their employees or students, regardless of discipline. Academia currently leans towards approaches such as double majors or combined majors between computer science and other non-CS disciplines, commonly referred to as “CS+X” programs. These programs tend to require rigorous courses gleaned from the institutions’ courses for computer science majors. Thus, they may not meet the needs of majors in disciplines such as the social and biological sciences, humanities, and others.

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) is taking an approach more suitably termed “X+CS” to fulfill the computing needs of non-CS majors. As part of a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, we are developing a “computing” minor specifically to meet their needs. To date, we have piloted the first two of the minor’s approximately six courses. The first is a variation on the existing Computer Science I course required for majors but restricted to non-majors. Both versions of the course use the Python language and cover the same programming content, but with the non-majors assigned projects with relevance to non-CS disciplines. We use the same student assessment measures of homework, projects, and examinations for both courses. After four semesters, results show that non-CS majors perform comparably to majors. Students also express increased interest in computing and satisfaction with being part of a non-CS major cohort.

The second course was piloted in fall 2019. It is a new course intended to enhance and hone programming skills and introduce topics such as web scraping, HTML and CSS, web application development, data formats, and database use. Students again express increased interest in computing and were already beginning to apply the computing skills that they were learning to their non-CS courses.

As a welcome side effect, we experienced a significant increase in the number of women and under-represented minorities (URMs) in these two courses when compared with CS-major-specific courses. Overall, women comprised 52% of the population, with URMs following a similar upward trend.

We are currently developing the third course in the computing minor and exploring options for the remaining three. Possibilities include electives from our Information Systems major. We will also be working with our science, social science, and humanities departments to utilize existing courses in those disciplines that apply computing. The student response that we have received thus far provides us with evidence that our computing minor will be popular among UMBC’s non-CS population, providing them with a more suitable and positive computing education than existing CS+X efforts.

Mitchell, S., & Cole, K., & Joshi, A. (2020, March), X+CS: A Computing Pathway for Non-Computer Science Majors Paper presented at 2020 Mid-Atlantic Spring Conference, Baltimore, Maryland.

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