What Really Happens In A Community-Engaged Computer Science Classroom

This year marked the 6th time that I’ve taught the community-engaged CIS3750 Systems Analysis and Design classroom. Since 2012, the course has gone through several changes. I’ve modified the various deliverables that the students in CIS3750 have to submit, I’ve added or removed classroom activities, and I’ve tried new things – some successful, some not.

In part, the changes I’ve made to the course have been due to a growing class size and the need to modify things from a resourcing point of view1. However, there have also been cases where I’ve removed things because they just weren’t working (hello midterm exam), or because I found something better (hello final video report instead of a written final report), or because I wanted to try something new (hello improv in the classroom). In the latter case, and for full disclosure – the something new hasn’t always worked (hello team-based requirements gathering and analysis). In those cases, I quickly ditched the new in favour of the old.

Despite the changes, the core of the course has remained the same. The learning outcomes haven’t shifted, and the students continue to benefit from engaging with the expertise of our community partners. It’s this latter point that I believe has allowed the students to rise above the expectations of a typical classroom project. Having a real client, with a real problem provides a sense of urgency and a drive to succeed. It provides the students with a feeling that their work could potentially impact and improve the lives of people in their own community – something I believe acts as a substantial source of motivation2.

To get a better sense of what the students actually do in a community-engaged computer science classroom, and in particular what this cohort of CIS3750 students accomplished this year, I present to you the final video report (with permission) from one of the 32 teams in this year’s class. Thanks to Joel, Tyler, Syed, and Steve for letting me share this video.

1 In 2012 and 2013, the class had 30 and 32 students, respectively. By 2014 the class grew to 72, followed by 92 in 2015. There was a temporary drop in 2016 to 86. This year there were 132.

2 Of course, this also introduces a new set of anxieties, challenges, and expectations for the students which must be managed accordingly.


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