of the CRA Mark II Working Group on Education (CRA-E)
In the summer of 2008, Andries van Dam from Brown University convened the CRA-E committee—the Mark I committee as it has become known. Mark I was a panel of world-class computing researchers and educators who were asked to identify and recommend best practices for preparing undergraduates for research careers in computing. A summary of their findings and recommendations appears elsewhere in this issue of Computing Research News.
At the 2010 Snowbird meeting, the van Dam committee report was turned over to CRA-E Mark II, chaired by Georgia Tech’s Rich DeMillo. The objective of the Mark II committee is to make use of these and other recommendations to establish ongoing programs and projects and to seek the broadest possible engagement from CRA members in tracking, influencing, and aiding the educational programs that feed the research pipeline.
CRA-E is modeled on the successful CRA-W committee that uses a core membership and extensive liaisons with partner organizations to give CRA members visibility into and influence over gender diversity. Like CRA-W, CRA-E will rely on community building and collaboration. There are obvious synergies between CRA-E, ACM/SIGCSE, IEEE, SIAM, ASEE, CDC, CCC/UR-Zone, and the CS/10K effort to enhance AP offerings. CRA-E will collaborate and partner with these and other efforts and invites participation from those groups.
CRA-E is an exciting and ambitious new venture for CRA—one that gives members a seat at the table as important curriculum and policy decisions are made. In chartering CRA-E, the CRA board made it clear what was not part of the committee’s mission. CRA-E is not prescriptive: it will not develop curricula, nor will it compete with educational activities of ACM, IEEE and other professional societies. It will not advocate on behalf of particular learning and educational methods and technologies. Above all, CRA-E will avoid win-lose choices between computing research and education.
Rather, as a working group of the CRA, CRA-E will be concerned with how education fits into the broader picture of computing-oriented research, and how education can better serve research needs. What CRA-E will do is offer advice, help, and resources to the educational institutions that prepare students for computing research careers, beginning with making information available about the health of the pipeline.
What exactly does CRA mean by the health of the pipeline? This is one of the first questions to be answered by CRA-E. According to NSF data for the academic years 2004-08, one-half of the approximately 6,200 computer science students granted PhDs in North America received their undergraduate degrees from foreign colleges and universities. Yet the effect on domestic graduate programs of this reliance on an overseas pipeline is almost entirely anecdotal. Data gathered over the next year will help to give CRA members insight into these and other issues.
Non-PhD-granting institutions—including departments that are otherwise unrepresented in CRA—will also play a critical role. Nearly half of the computer science PhDs who received bachelor’s degrees from U.S. and Canadian institutions attended programs that conduct little or no doctoral research. There are virtually no data that indicate whether these departments have access to the same resources and materials that research institutions—the so-called R1 universities—enjoy. And regardless of research activity, CRA members do not know with any precision the extent to which the best students are attracted to research careers by their undergraduate experiences. There are literally dozens of indicators of a healthy pipeline that would give CRA a window into the future of the field. One task of CRA-E is to begin the development of a dashboard that provides answers to such basic questions. Collaboration with other data-gathering projects aimed at undergraduate institutions has already begun.
The impact of an effective dashboard could be immediate. For example, the committee has heard about the positive effect of Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) supplements to NSF grants. Pipeline data might show, for example, the effect of changes in the mix of R1 and non-doctoral recipients of REU funds. Or the data might suggest more productive ways for research and non-research departments to collaborate in REU projects.
CRA-E is seeking your help and input. Comments as well as Ideas for projects, workshops, and seminars may be sent to CRA-E chair Rich DeMillo (firstname.lastname@example.org). An online community for CRA-E will be operational in the next few weeks and will be accessible from the CRA website.
Rich DeMillo, Distinguished Professor of Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology, is a member of the CRA Board of Directors and Chair of CRA-E.