New Computer Science Curriculum Creates More Flexibility in Content and Scheduling for Students

The Computer Science Department introduced a new Computer Science curriculum beginning in Fall 2023. With two years in development, the new curriculum focuses on having Computer Science term-contained electives, compared to year-long courses, and provides more learning opportunities by offering a range of Computer Science courses. 

The changed curriculum follows a new sequence, with a requirement of a combination of any three introductory and intermediate courses to progress to advanced courses, Computer Science 550-559 and Computer Science 600. Joel Jacob, Department Chair and Instructor of Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science, commented on the goals of the new curriculum, which creates more elective-style, single-term classes.

“The new computer science curriculum, to debut in Fall 2023, is a complete overhaul of the current program. The goals of redesigning the program were to align what we are teaching in computer science classes with how we are teaching the subject, expand opportunities for more students to experience cs through the single-term course model, and realize the department’s work on competencies and project-based courses in the new curriculum. This refocusing will allow faculty to engage students on important technical and humanistic skills, such as collaboration, experimental design, computer programming, questioning impact, and systems thinking,” wrote Jacob in an email to The Phillipian

Nick Zufelt, Instructor in Computer Science and a leading developer of the curriculum, spoke on how the new curriculum emphasizes process skills rather than technical skills, such as collaboration and problem-solving. Zufelt also noted how he hopes that the new curriculum will allow more students to try out computer science to see if they like it, without having to commit to a full-year course. 

“We’ve been thinking a lot more about what it takes for a student to move on past introductory computer science classes, and what we were discovering is that it’s a lot more than knowledge of particular coding topics. We want students to develop a sort of maturity around a whole bunch of different skills, one of which is coding, and many others such as: how you communicate, problem-solving, some writing, some collaboration, the ability to be curious. [Those are all aspects] that we’re actually going to try and assess students on,” said Zufelt.

Zufelt continued, “One of the changes we’re hoping might happen from this is that more students, more individual students will get to experience computer science, [even if] the number [of classes] stays the same. We’re hoping that this kind of spreads out who gets to see who chooses to see computer science courses, as opposed to sort of concentrating and those kids who identify as being STEM kids.”

Similarly, Meghan Clarke, Instructor in Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science, discussed how the new curriculum will also provide more flexibility for students to craft their schedule with specific courses they want to take in computer science. 

“I hope [this new curriculum] will bring a lot more choices so they can have a bit more control [in their schedule]. The idea is that they are [choosing] their own classes and kind of put together courses that they’re interested in, fit them into their schedule where they can. In [the] intermediate [level] you may have things like paradigm computer organization hardware, computing cryptography, very similar to what our [Computer Science] 600 is now. [Then in the introductory courses] we might have a Python course [or] a robotics course. We want to support them in the classes and then for them to be like ‘Oh my goodness, I actually really like computer science, I want to take more,’” said Clarke. 

Adaora Mbanefo ’24, a current student in Computer Science 509, described how the new curriculum will allow for more opportunities within the computer science department, giving students the chance to study more fields within the elective. Mbanefo also praised the department for the time and effort put into the new curriculum.

“It’s really amazing that I will be able to take the class that I’m taking now in a shorter amount of time so I will be able to do other things because it won’t take up a whole year, and I’ll be able to grow my knowledge and my coding, computer science skills, further. [The new curriculum] allows more introductory courses for lowerclassmen to join computer science, and because of the way it’s going to go, even for those who are already into computer science, it’s not like a ‘I take one course and I’m done’ type of thing, you have so many varied options, like machine learning and others, to really target what you’re interested in. I know that the computer science department, which falls into the math department, have worked really hard to get this approved and I’m really excited to see how it plays out,” said Mbanefo.