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Laboratory Approach Trains Tomorrow's Computer Professionals

From NSF Press Release
January 1, 1993


C omputer science has seen many dramatic changes in its brief history, according to William Wulf of the University of Virginia. But he saw that the pedagogy had hardly changed. "Not only is that pedagogy out of date," he said, "it is profoundly wrong. It emphasized individual skill in writing short programs in a dead language, from scratch. This emphasis is the antithesis of that needed by a contemporary computing professional." With financial support from the Division of Undergraduate Education of the National Science Foundation (DUE/NSF), Wulf and his colleagues have developed an up-to-date approach to the teaching of computer science.

The new curriculum and supporting materials are focused around the practice of computing, especially in the first two years. "The thrust of our new curriculum is based upon a core sequence of laboratories," Wulf explained. "Lecture materials and content are supportive of the laboratories rather than the other way around."

The core courses of the new curriculum are designed to be more mathematically rigorous, more practice-oriented, and more closely related to the real-world environment. "C++ was selected as the new programming language," he explained. "It has the benefits of supporting object-oriented programming and increasing industrial acceptance."

Students are also taught the importance of reuse of individual courseware modules. "We intend to make our artifacts available to other universities that choose to adopt elements of our curriculum," Wulf said. Wulf has three of the four core courses in place. The fourth will start development during Summer 1994 and be offered in Spring 1995.

"We are extremely pleased and encouraged with the results of our new courses," he said. "Students in the new courses seem more interested and stimulated. The students are no brighter, but the level of material that they can handle is dramatically higher."

Wulf feels sure that his program can have a significant national impact on computer science education. "I would like to see this program adopted by every computer science department in the country," he stated.

Wulf recently participated in Project Impact, a conference sponsored by DUE/NSF. Project Impact brought together more than 250 NSF grant recipients. They were selected based on the outstanding potential for national adoption of their reforms in undergraduate education. Through the conference, DUE/NSF sought to encourage and support greater dissemination of the work of the innovative educators.

Dr. Robert Watson, director of DUE/NSF, stated, "Our goal is to foster large-scale reform in undergraduate education. Our grant holders are the primary agents of this change and we expect that their projects will advance our country's technological base and provide all students with excellent instruction in mathematics and science."

Principal Investigator
William Wulf
Department of Computer Science
University of Virginia
Charlottesville, VA 22903
Phone: 804-982-2223
Fax: 804-982-2214
INTERNET: wulf@cs.virginia.edu

Project Title:
Development of a Set of "Closed Laboratories" for an Undergraduate Computer Science Curriculum.

Other Key Personnel:
James P. Cohoon, Jack W. Davidson, Greg Fife, John C. Knight, Worthy N. Martin, Randy Pausch, Jane C. Prey


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