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Notes for a talk on Scholarship Opportunities for All in Computer Science

In a recent essay, I discussed the Computer Science department plans to the support Grinnell’s new Research Opportunities for All Students initiative. I have now been asked to serve on a panel on the same subject for the Faculty Fridays series. This essay serves as my notes for that panel. You may see some repetition from the prior essay [1,2].

Hi, as most of you know, I’m Sam Rebelsky [3], and I chair Grinnell’s Computer Science department. I think I’m here as the token scientist. I find that a bit strange, because I’m regularly told that computer science is not a real science. In any case, I’m here to talk to you about our department’s approach to scholarship opportunities for all.

I will admit that the department approached the initiative with some trepidation. We have a very high student-to-faculty ratio in the department: We graduate about 35 students each year, and we only have four tenure-line faculty members [4]. We also do our best to follow national curricular standards. (Henry Walker would want me to tell you that we do well enough that we are listed as an exemplar in the decennial report on undergraduate curriculum from the CS professional societies.) I think our average class size is 24 students. Those constraints don’t give us a lot of wiggle room. For example, we could not readily follow Dean Latham’s first suggestion, which was to substitute a 12-person seminar for some of our upper-level classes. (You can probably do the math as well as I can.)

We began by considering what we should consider research. Our department has a long tradition of embracing Earnest Boyer’s four modes of scholarship and even include them in our statement on scholarship expectations [5]. Those are the scholarship of discovery; the scholarship of integration; the scholarship of application; and the scholarship of teaching [6]. Each of these areas can involve pushing current knowledge in new, creative and innovative ways. The scholarship of discovery is what folks traditionally call research; it’s the creation of new knowledge in the discipline. Boyer notes that equally important are the scholarship of integration, in which one brings together multiple ideas; the scholarship of application, in which one applies knowledge to new projects; and the scholarship of teaching in which one develops ways for others to master this knowledge.

For students, we also identified a fifth possible kind of scholarship, which I’ll call the scholarship of replication. Students learn an enormous amount when they try to replicate a research project that they’ve only read about in the literature. In addition to learning a lot about the research process itself, they discover the hidden subtleties that don’t get mentioned in papers. They also learn to be very close readers. However, it’s clear that this won’t work for all projects. My colleagues tell me that many papers that they might have students read would require about two years to acquire sufficient data.

Because we wanted to take the initiative seriously, and because we think that different students are served by different kinds of scholarship, we did not take the easy way out and just designate our software design course as the scholarship opportunity, even though it clearly represents the scholarship of application.

Given the other demands on the department, we did not think that requiring MAPs would be appropriate.

In the end, we decided that we will probably offer students a menu of opportunities that go beyond the core curriculum. We plan to list these as a recommendation in the catalog, something like We encourage every student to consider a faculty-supported scholarly experience appropriate to their skills and interests.

  • Students will continue to be able to enroll in group MAPs or MIPs. We find that summer projects are both more successful and more beneficial than academic-year projects. Hence, we will likely emphasize summer MAPs and MIPs. We will also encourage students to consider NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates opportunities as a similar alternative.

  • Students will be able to extend their software design project for another semester, and also mentor other students who join that project in that second semester.

  • Students will be able to enroll in some upper-level electives that we designate as research courses, courses that will include a 3- or 4-week module in which students either develop something new or replicate an existing scholarly project.

  • Students will be able to contribute to a free and open-source project, with associated faculty supervision.

  • We will allow students to engage in public scholarship by writing a series of public essays about computing topics.

I’ll note that we expect that many of these opportunities will take the form of group projects, which we have found particularly successful in our department, not only because they allow students to accomplish more, but because they help students develop important soft skills.

For the last two models (that is, free and open-source software and public essays), we are not yet sure precisely what form will be most appropriate.

We discussed permitting supervised internships, which is one of the models we saw in some of the literature that the Dean’s office provided. However, we have found that so many of our students are required to sign non-disclosure agreements which make it impossible to have a substantive conversation on the work the students are doing.

If there’s time …

The other aspect of the initiative is opportunities for public presentation. With thirty-some-odd majors graduating each year, providing opportunities for all to present publicly [7] will be a bit of a challenge.

We already have our MAP students (and some REU students) present in the weekly department seminar series, so we think we can accommodate some students in that series, particularly if we combine two or three group presentations. We will also continue to encourage students to present their work as posters on family weekend.

We expect that we will also reserve certain times at the end of the semester for students to publicly present their work from the designated research classes. (It may be that we will just designate class time or finals time for those presentations.)

We are also considering starting (or restarting) a departmental technical report series as a place for students to present preliminary work.

I think that’s about it. I’m happy to answer questions and to provide folks with a copy of our too-long memo to the Dean on this subject.

[1] I find it interesting that the previous essay was published exactly one month ago, on 2016-09-27.

[2] No, I do not plan to read the endnotes when I read this essay to the gathered crowd.

[3] Yes, I know that I said I prefer Samuel A. Rebelsky when I am mentioned in pieces of formal writing. But this speech isn’t really a piece of formal writing.

[4] We have been approved to hire a fifth tenure-line faculty member. We are also looking to expand John Stone’s teaching.


[6] Earnest W. Boyer. Scholarship Reconsidered. p. 16.

[7] I keep trying to spell publicly as publically. In searching for information on the spellings on the Interweb, I found some interesting things in a discussion on StackExchange. In particular, I discovered that the OED [8] does list publically. I also discovered that ally is the more typical suffix used to make adverbs from words that end with ic [9].

[8] Oxford English Dictionary, for the pretension impaired.

[9] For example, basically, specifically, cryptically, and, as I discovered when checking with another Interweb search, haptically. However, it appears that Celtically is not regularly used.

Version 1.0.3 of 2017-05-28.