In a few short days, I’ll be packing my bags and heading to Dalian Nationalities University (DNU) to teach a condensed version of CIS3750 to their first- and second-year computer science students. This will be my fourth trip to DNU, but my first to occur in the fall semester. I’m naturally quite excited to experience the last weeks of summer and the first few weeks of winter in China.
Of course, my trip won’t only see me teaching at DNU. I will also be travelling to Taipei, Taiwan to take part in the g0v (pronounced Gov Zero) summit. The g0v Summit is a biennial event that brings together innovators and educators from around the world to talk about and promote active and open civic engagement through the use of technology. Obviously, this is a conference that speaks to me!
While I’m at the conference, I’ll also be presenting a 90-minute workshop with my MSc student, Nic Durish, titled Community-Engaged Computer Science: Lessons Learned in the Pursuit of Social Justice. The abstract for the workshop is below.
Since this will be my first time in Taiwan, I’m naturally rather excited for this particular leg of my trip.
Computer science training at the undergraduate level often limits student experiences to those that have been highly curated, constrained, and tested by the instructor. While this provides students with the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of computer science and software design in a safe environment, it does not necessarily provide a real-world experiential learning opportunity. To provide students with these types of opportunities, a third-year mandatory computer science classroom (CIS3750) in the School of Computer Science at the University of Guelph was restructured to incorporate community-engaged learning (CEL); an instructional method heavily used in the social sciences, but rarely employed in computer science classes. By providing an interdisciplinary educational experience, CEL has been shown to increase student engagement, civic-mindedness, and network size. It also provides community partners with fresh perspectives, insight, and access to scientific research in a way that might not be possible otherwise.
In particular, students enrolled in CIS3750 are challenged to address broad social issues through the lens of a local not-for-profit organization and lived experience. Since 2012, computer science students at the University of Guelph have worked with community partners including the Guelph-Wellington Food Round Table, the Food Access Working Group, the Upper Grand District School Board, Transition Guelph, the Guelph Community Health Centre, Meal Exchange, the Seed Community Food Hub, the Agricultural Research & Extension Trust of Malawi, and Community Living Cambridge. Students have developed prototypes to 1) improve communication between donors and food banks to help improve the quality and quantity of donations, 2) share scientific knowledge to improve crop production, 3) organize food collection drives, and 4) encourage positive health outcomes for young adults living with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
The goal of this workshop is to describe the challenges and opportunities that CEL provides, including a discussion of the various players involved, a description of the timeline and tasks associated with the development of a CEL classroom, the necessity of managing expectations, and the outcomes to date (both from the student and community points of view). This will be accomplished through discussion of a series of case studies where computer science students were challenged to address broad social challenges (e.g. food insecurity) under the guidance and training of not-for-profit community partners. Outcomes, best practices, and lessons learned will be discussed.
The workshop will also include discussion of several outstanding questions associated with a CEL computer science classroom. Discussion will be facilitated through a series of activities used in the classroom to foster communication and teamwork.