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Competency-Based Education for Computer Science at Tuskegee University

The TUCS program began a systemic change effort focused on using competency-based learning practices in 2023. Collaboratively, the Purdue team conducted research to identify competencies for computing professionals and provided faculty development, instructional design, and consulting services for the pilot institutions.  

As part of the systemic change strand of the grant, PU and TUCS were able to plan for and begin piloting the incorporation of cross-disciplinary skills, dispositions, and active learning practices into the TUCS program. The Purdue team developed a series of workshops to provide participating institutions with information on competency-based learning and teaching practices, and hands-on experiences aimed to walk them through program-level curricular design and course-level teaching and assessment design with faculty from each program. The Purdue team conducted an additional workshop to guide TUCS faculty in selecting specific skills and dispositions to target for the current round of revisions. These were selected based on the faculty members’ shared vision of the future for their students and program, utilizing a “swift futuring” methodology, a short-term planning tool used by some MSIs (Arroyo, in press).  

Finally, PU team members acted as instructional design consultants to assist four TUCS faculty members in adapting core courses to integrate the selected cross-disciplinary skills and dispositions. 

Computer Science Curriculum at University of Alabama

Additionally, the local team improved the University’s relationship with the Center for Advanced Public Safety (CAPS), a UA center that provides job and research opportunities for our students while they are enrolled at UA as well as after they finish their degrees, in the following ways:

  • In CS121, CS200 and CS495, the CAPS Director has presented CAPS to the students, described the many projects in which CAPS is involved and the opportunities available to students.
  • CAPS can also provide projects for the CS495 course.

The DEAP team made several changes to the specific curriculum at University of Alabama (UA). The changes are mapped to specific sources below:

  • In CS100, student grades are based on five categories of work: projects, in-class labs, exams, quizzes, and Zybooks interactive assignments. In the past, exams were weighted more heavily than the other four categories.  To focus on programming skills as the measure for competency in this course, the weights for each of these five categories were changed to 20% during the 2022-23 academic year, allowing students to demonstrate their skills in programming instead of their ability to take a timed exam.  This has resulted in increased retention in CS100 from 59% in 2021-22 to 70% in 2022-23.
  • Additional changes were made, such as group assignments in labs and the creation of intentional study groups for all students in a section, to allow students the opportunity to meet each other and work together. One of the sections was taught as a hybrid flipped classroom to determine if a change in delivery method would have an impact on student competency.
  • CS100 requires students to be Calculus ready, which is not true of all of our entering majors.  All of freshmen majors who are not Calculus ready are encouraged to take Introduction to Python and Intermediate Python programming courses until they are eligible for CS100.

Pilot Implementation Resources: University of Alabama CS100

  • The content of this course was altered to focus on careers in computing by including speakers from industry, resume building and research opportunities. The speakers are former alum and are from such companies as Google, ESPN and Gray Analytics. Faculty members who work with undergraduate students also present their research in order to recruit more students to work in their research labs.
  • Each speaker in CS121 is requested to talk about one of the four dispositions, and what role it played in their careers.
  • Two assignments now address professional development. One assignment requires students to create a resume in VMOCK (assignment appears at the end of this document) which provides students with feedback on their resumes. A second assignment requires students to attend the UA Technical and Engineering Career Fair, bring their resumes and speak to several companies at the fair. CS121 had an enrollment of 376 students in fall of 2023, increasing participation in the career fair by hundreds of students.
  • While working in a team was always been a component of this course, feedback from the competency team about the importance of working in teams brought additional emphasis on teamwork for this course.
  • Invited industry speakers were also added to this course, as they provide additional insight into the importance of topics covered in the course for software developers.
  • Software security considerations were added to the course, in which students must determine the level of security required for the code they create, to demonstrate what is required in a real-world software development environment.
  • This is a new course that was created to provide students with hands-on experience to better prepare them for internships and co-ops. Students are eligible for this course once they complete CS301 – Database Management Systems.
  • While this course currently fulfills a free elective slot, it will be changed to a course that will fulfill one of the required CS elective courses.
  • Group projects have been introduced into the course to provide students with additional experience working in teams.
  • Included whiteboard questions to prepare students for the types of questions they may encounter during an interview.
  • CS495 is a culminating capstone project course that integrates the skills and abilities throughout the curriculum into a comprehensive design and development experience for computer science majors.
  • Students are currently able to create and identify their own projects for the course. In the future, the advisory board may provide project suggestions to better prepare students for the types of projects they will encounter
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