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Scholarly opportunities for all in CS, revisited

Grinnell is in the midst of planning for the research opportunities for all initiative. In case you don’t remember from an earlier musing on this topic, here’s the resolution that the Grinnell faculty approved.

Student research is focused inquiry supervised by a faculty member that seeks to answer or explore an intellectual and/or creative problem or question. Grinnell College seeks to provide every student an opportunity to pursue research and share the product publicly. [1]

In the current phase of that initiative, the Dean’s office expects each department to produce answers to a set of five questions [2]. A few we have answered before. Others extend those questions. I worry that some questions suggest that the initiative will require us to do more assessment, but we’ll cross [3] that bridge when we come to it.

Note that these are my draft answers to those questions. The department will discuss them further at an upcoming meeting.

Define the means through which all majors in your department will be able to (or are already able to) pursue an opportunity for a significant research or creative experience.

The Computer Science Department follows the faculty handbook and uses the term scholarship rather than research. In developing our view of scholarship in CS, we have drawn upon the work of Ernest Boyer in Scholarship Reconsidered and embraced multiple modes of scholarship, including the scholarship of discovery; the scholarship of integration; the scholarship of application; and the scholarship of teaching. Each of these areas can involve pushing current knowledge in new, creative, and innovative ways. The scholarship of discovery is what people often mean when they say research; it refers to the discovery or creation of new ideas or approaches in the discipline. Boyer notes that it is equally important to bring together ideas from multiple disciplines (integration), to apply these ideas to new projects (application), and to develop ways for others to learn these ideas (teaching).

We also consider it appropriate for students to engage in the scholarship of replication, in which they replicate a project from the literature. In replicating a project, students not only learn a great deal about the research process itself and the subject, but also discover hidden subtleties that authors typically fail to mention.

We expect that different students will be best served by different kinds of scholarly opportunities. Hence, we plan to present students with a variety of choices to go beyond the core CS curriculum.

MAPs and MIPs. We will continue to offer group and individual Mentored Advanced Projects (MAPs) and Mentored Introductory Projects (MIPs). Because we have found that summer MAPs and MIPs are more successful in achieving our goals for student scholarship, we will emphasize summer projects. Most of the MAPs and MIPs in our department represent the scholarship of discovery. We also offer opportunities associated with the scholarship of teaching.

REUs. We will also encourage students to consider National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) opportunities as an appropriate alternative.

Extended CSC 322 Projects. Students in our software design practicum (CSC 322) work on large projects that represent the scholarship of application. We will permit students to extend those projects for a second semester. As they continue their work, they will also serve as mentors to students who join in that second semester.

Upper-level Research Courses. We will designate some upper-level electives as research courses, which will include 3- or 4-week research modules. In such courses, students will either develop a new project (representing the scholarship of discovery or the scholarship of application), replicate an existing scholarly project (representing the scholarship of replication), or tie together a variety of projects (scholarship of synthesis).

Faculty-supervised FLOSS Internships. The materials distributed by Associate Dean Tapias suggest that some institutions allow internships to meet their research for all guidelines, presumably as an instance of the scholarship of application. However, we have found that the non-disclosure agreements associated with many computer science internships make it difficult for a faculty supervisor to ensure that students reflect appropriately on their experience. As a compromise, we will provide students with the opportunity to work on free/libre and open-source software (FLOSS) projects with faculty supervision.

Faculty-supervised Public Essays. Our experience suggests that some students are best served by engaging in public scholarship. We will offer students the opportunity to write a series of public essays, with faculty supervision and guidance.

Define the means through which your departmental curriculum provides a structure for students to develop the essential skills and abilities necessary to carry out this research. How does your curriculum provide a scaffold for the teaching of these skills and abilities? Do you anticipate making any changes to the curriculum to enhance this process?

Different scholarly opportunities require different background. A student doing systems-oriented work needs a very different skill set than a student proving the correctness of algorithms or a student developing curricula.

We have designed our introductory sequence to help students think broadly about computer science and algorithm design. We teach three different languages and three different problem-solving paradigms. We structure those courses using a workshop approach to help students further build their skills in problem-solving and teamwork. Our experience suggests that the design of that sequence works well for those goals. Individual scholarly projects, particularly MAPs and MIPs, draw upon this background and provide additional project-specific training.

We do not expect to make any changes to the curriculum to enhance this process.

What do you anticipate that the final products of student research will be? What form will they take?

MAPs and MIPs: It depends on the project. In most cases, MAPs and MIPs result in research papers. Many projects lead to an associated artifact, such as a piece of software or a curricular design.

REUs: It depends on the projects. REUs often result in research papers, but not always. In some cases, there is also an associated artifact.

Extended CSC 322 Projects: A software artifact.

Upper-level Research Courses: Most typically, an artifact and an accompanying presentation. In some cases, a paper.

Faculty-supervised FLOSS Internships: A collection of contributions to the project. A series of journal entries on the experience.

Faculty-supervised Public Essays: A collection of essays.

How will majors in your department be enabled to share their research or creative experience publicly? Through what venues (e.g. Grinnell Student Research Symposium, conference presentations, performances, digital work) will they be able to do that?

Again, it depends on the particular project. When projects have a piece of writing as one of the outcomes, we plan to place those writings in a technical report series. We plan to archive those reports in Digital Grinnell and on the CS Department Web site. We will continue to encourage our students to submit their work to professional conferences or associated student research competitions. In those cases, if the work is accepted they then present the work as a poster or talk. We often release software that students develop to a public repository under a FLOSS license. In addition, we expect most students to present in the weekly CS Extras series.

Through what means do you expect to assess student research in your department? How will you evaluate the extent to which students develop and demonstrate the research abilities that you intend for them to achieve?

MAPs and MIPs: Through the standard processes, including observation of student work during the semester, evaluation of final products, and the College MAP evaluation form.

REUs: We will ask students to present in the CS Extras series and will assess their learning based on the presentations and the associated question and answer session.

Extended CSC 322 Projects: We will rely on the regular course assessment.

Upper-level Research Courses: We will rely on the regular course assessment.

Faculty-supervised FLOSS Internships: In most cases, the supervising faculty member will assess the student based on the journals that the student has done during the project. In some cases, we will also ask students to present in the CS Extras series. In some cases, we may also ask members of the FLOSS project for their assessment.

Faculty-supervised Public Essays: The supervising faculty member will assess the essays.

[1] Final wording taken from Minutes from Grinnell College Meeting of the Faculty, April 4, 2016, available in a rabbit hole somewhere in cyberspace.

[2] You can find the questions on I would discourage you from making up majors at the College and then filling it out for those majors.

[3] Or detour around.

Version 1.0 of 2017-03-30.