Step 58: Comment on Counting from Zero

Janet Davis was a professor at Grinnell. She got tenure, then moved to Whitman to start their computer science program. I only recently learned that she has also started a blog, titled Counting from Zero, about her time at Whitman. So during the flights to my conference and back, I binged on her blog posts. Some notes:

  • There are a number of administrative and bureaucratic differences – in how pay raises are determined, in whether sabbaticals are automatically granted or “applied” for (however trivial that application may be), and so on.
  • In general, I am extremely ignorant of existing CS resources for teaching. I bookmarked more than fifteen links as I read through the blog. I was/am also highly susceptible to Not Invented Here syndrome, which I should work to suppress as soon as possible.
  • Why is it necessary to build a computer lab? I was initially worried about this at Oxy, but it turns out that almost every student has a laptop, and there is a basic laptop loan program from the library.
  • I found it fascinating that Whitman decided to so rapidly build out its computer science program, hiring (as far as I can tell) one associate professor and three assistant professors in two years. I wonder how they came to this decision – although, I’m not sure I understand how Oxy came to its current strategy around computer science either… despite now having shaped it.
  • In general, I feel Whitman has a stronger direction and leadership for computer science compared to Oxy, even before Davis was hired.
  • On the other hand, I completely understand why Whitman would start with a minor. The idea that a major should “play to [the] collective strengths” of a group of faculty sounds alien – surely there are tight disciplinary constraints on a major curriculum? – but that is lost in the day to day of actually teaching those classes.
  • On the other other hand, Oxy being next door to Caltech and a credit transfer policy between the two institutions means we can be more experimental with what courses we do/do not offer in the short term.
  • There are some collaborations with offices at Whitman that I might copy – recruiting at prospective students, or example, or talking to local recruiters. The Math department does regularly invite Googlers to campus, and Career Services have worked with smaller companies, but I should be more involved.
  • I really like the idea of CS+X. I only recently learned about them from a colleague, who heard about Stanford’s program. However, I am not sure if they should be majors; I’m more inclined to either be concentrations within computer science (or X), or be some sort of create-your-own-major solution.
  • Similarly, I’m confused by the call for a Math+CS joint major, particularly the justification that it would be for people who “do not see themselves as programmers”. My solution for these people would be to make sure that computer science aims more broadly than just producing programmers, math or no math.

I really should just send Janet Davis an email and ask to chat at some point; I’m sure I have a lot of other things to learn.

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Step 58: Comment on Counting from Zero

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