NSF Panel Reviews of the Proposal

Panel Summary

Project Description

The project follows a well-defined process, in collaboration with a broad-based constituency of stakeholders, to define the specific workforce computational skills demanded by government and industry. These skills will be abstracted and combined with overall computing principles to propose reforms to existing computing curricula at Michigan State. The final goal is identifying opportunities for curricular integration that transform the teaching of computational problem solving.

Intellectual Merit

The project does not claim to have any answers to the fundamental question it raises. Its importance resides in the question itself - how to connect workplace requirements with formal education - and the process for connecting the stakeholders' interests to the content of academic computing programs.

The project outlines creative and innovative mechanisms for integrating workplace requirements with formal education, one which is well-structured, coherent, and very promising. Indeed, a primary contribution will be the dissemination of this process, providing a model for others attempting a curriculum transformation.

The project encompasses a broad range of stakeholders: academic institutions, economic revitalization agencies, and local industry. Furthermore, the academic realm embraces four year universities, local community colleges, and even high schools. The project recognizes that these stakeholders have disjoint concerns, and often don't understand each others' problems; the well-conceived process is explicitly designed to address these issues. The panel strongly suggests that the project investigate innovative information gathering and exchange mechanisms beyond the standard ones discussed.

The team itself is broadly based and well-qualified, encompassing as it does academic administrators, CISE and other engineering faculty at MSU, and representatives from local community colleges. The resources at MSU are more than adequate to support this project.

Broader Impact

Three project aspects have potential for broad application. The first would be an existence proof that collaboration among the proposal's diverse stakeholders can produce a useful roadmap for curricular change. This in and of itself will help promote improved teaching in computing.

Second, a critique of the process outlined - both what works and what proved problematical - would be of great value to the wider computing community. The fact that the project is not limited to four year universities, but explicitly addresses issues in community colleges (and even high schools) attests to the breadth of the potential effects. As a result, we may see enhanced curricular infrastructure in those colleges and universities building on this process.

Third, the specific lessons learned by the project may be transferable: The connection between computing principles and workplace requirements that are appropriate in Michigan may well be applicable elsewhere. The net benefits to society are more computing graduates who can effectively apply computing principles to industrial problems.

The project team's dissemination plan, based on forums held at the MSU campus, articulation with the local WIRED initiative addressing workforce issues, and publications and web-hosted repositories, is appropriate and adequate.

The project indirectly addresses issues of underrepresented groups via its focus on general improvement in computing education.

Responsiveness to CPATH Solicitation

The project holds promise to have fundamental and transformative effects on computing education. First of all, it outlines a process that in and of itself may help align undergraduate education with workforce requirements without transforming computing into a vocational field of study. Second, it is an excellent example of including a broad range of stakeholders in the community it encompasses.

The proposed path to revitalization holds promise for improving the global competitive position of Michigan by ensuring graduates whose skills are relevant but whose conceptual background in computing is deep.

The vision, goals, objectives and outcomes are clearly delineated and presented; the project plan to achieve the outcomes is appropriate. The team is broad based and well-qualified, and the industrial, government and academic community surrounding MSU is strongly supportive.

Rationale for Recommendation (including suggestions for improvement)

The project has a well considered plan of action. The overall goals are well thought out, and given the breadth of the stakeholder base, hold promise to truly improve computing education as a result. Independent of the specific results for Michigan State, the process they use may prove useful to a wide-variety of computing programs. Overall, the project is one that could conceivably lead to significant improvement in undergraduate computing education.

Recommendation: After serious discussion, the panel rated this as F (Fund).

Panel Recommendation: Fund


What is the intellectual merit of the proposed activity?

The proposal is to build on existing infrastructure of academic, industry, and government in Michigan to define the critical computing knowledge required in the workplace. Based on this, the specific skills will be abstracted to their essentials and then mapped onto the core computer science concepts taught in academia. One goal is to identify misfits and outworn ideas that must be addressed in any curriculum change.

Based on this work by the broader community, further proposals are expected to define and support the necessary transformations in both computer science and in the education of other engineers in computational methods.

1. Is the proposal systemic in nature? Does it address a broad range of issues?

Yes û the proposal covers engineering computing from the perspectives of both those for whom this is their primary profession and other engineering professionals who need computational skills in order to be effective in their home disciplines.

2. Does the proposal have potential to transform and revitalize undergraduate computing education nationwide?

While focused on the specific situation in Michigan, both the general process used and the specific curricular changes that result have the potential for significantly enhancing and revitalizing computing education.

3. Do the project's vision, goals, objectives and outcomes have the potential to contribute to the CPATH vision?

If this results in the reformulation of Michigan States academic programs in computing, it will indeed contribute to the CPATH vision.

4. Is there a Gantt-chart or similar entity that shows the timeline, tasks, milestones and specific responsibilities? Is the implementation plan likely to realize the stated vision, goals, objectives and outcomes?

There is sufficient documentation of the plan, milestones and responsibilities to convince me that the project goals have a high probability of being realized.

What are the broader impacts of the proposed activity?

1. Will the proposal help create a U.S. workforce with the necessary computing expertise to support the nation's health, security and prosperity? What are the prospects that it will aid U.S. competitiveness?

Yes, as computer scientists, software engineers, and engineers in other disciplines will have an education in computing principles that is up-to-date, relevant, and appropriate to their specific discipline.

2. Is there a really a community that is being supported? How established is it? How broad is it? Is there evidence of ongoing engagement with the community?

The community is established and active in the area served by Michigan State. It represents a reliable cross-section of stakeholders who are dependent on engineering graduates with strong and appropriate computational knowledge and skills.

3. To what extent are CISE individuals engaged? Are others outside of CISE faculty engaged (e.g., other disciplines, industry, non-profits)?

The project includes representatives from CISE, other engineering disciplines, engineering firms and government. This broad constituency should help ensure the resulting recommendations are grounded in appropriate theory and practice.

Summary Statement

This is a solid proposal. While initially limited to Michigan, the results (both the process followed and the specific recommendations made) should prove of value across the nation.


What is the intellectual merit of the proposed activity?

The proposal is directed at building a community consisting of the college of Engineering at Michigan State, Lansing Community college and the Mid-Michigan Innovation team partners, such as business, industry, and professional engineering societies. They plan to develop a process to explore common interests and identify promising practices for improving undergraduate computing education. By developing an appropriate process, they plan pursuing curricular integration between computer science and engineering disciplines, culminating in computational problem solving paradigm. An evaluation and assessment plan is proposed that appears to be somewhat sketchy.

What are the broader impacts of the proposed activity?

It appears to this reviewer, that many of the anticipated outcomes should be an ongoing activity without any regard to this proposal. It is anticipated that the results from this proposal can be integrated in the curriculum by introducing computational problem solving paradigm across engineering courses. It is also possible that the graduates of such a program may be equipped with the computational skills identified by their employers.

Summary Statement

The proposal advocates integrating undergraduate computing education throughout engineering curriculum. The proposal addresses partnership within stakeholders and computing education. The outcomes and anticipated benefits are good. Inclusion of community colleges is particularly important and should be commended.


What is the intellectual merit of the proposed activity?

This proposal seeks to develop a process whereby stakeholders will be identified and involved in curricular reform that is flexible and responsive to workplace development needs. The location of the institutions involved, the state of Michigan, is in recognizably dire straits as its traditional manufacturing base crumbles in the face of the "new economy". Thus "revitalizing the workforce" has significant and immediate meaning to these folks.

The ultimate goal is to implement a problem-solving computational curriculum throughout the engineering disciplines, which will no doubt impact the undergraduate computer science curriculum as well as engineering curricula. However, that is not the focus of this proposal. This proposal is to develop the steps leading up to such an implementation - identify the stakeholders, gather their input on important computational skills, abstract computational problem-solving principles from those specific skills, and map those onto computer science concepts. The interesting part is the proposers' awareness of the fact that different stakeholders usually move in completely disjoint circles, academics being unaware of workforce needs and industry being unaware of the process of academic reform.

The proposal brings together a very broad community of academics at both the University and Community College level, workforce development teams in the mid-Michigan geographical area, a facilitating group that has led workforce development change nationwide, a specialist in assessment, and a consultant with extensive ABET/CSAB accreditation experience.

Details of the process remain somewhat sketchy, however. Phone call, e-mails, interviews, surveys - these are pretty obvious ideas and not much more detail is given. Perhaps the development of further detail is indeed what is to be carried out if this proposal is funded.

What are the broader impacts of the proposed activity?

Dissemination of a workable process could be used in many areas (in both the geographical and discipline sense) of curriculum reform. The proposers have included evaluation and dissemination plans for the results of their work.

Summary Statement

In general I like this idea as a stepping-stone to curriculum reform that potentially addresses areas that often cause curriculum reform to fall short of expectations. Curriculum reform is basic to the CPATH vision. My reservation is that the budget seems excessive for the scope of the project outlined.


What is the intellectual merit of the proposed activity?

The proposal describes the formation of the usual community of university, community college, governmental, and industrial representatives. However, the proposal then goes further to describe a workforce computational needs focus that drives curricular enhancement. This transformation model is the necessary innovation to bring this proposal up in rating. The community membership is well thought out, the community approach is detailed and feasible, and the curriculum transformation model is innovative and feasible.

What are the broader impacts of the proposed activity?

The results of this proposal could have wide impact in two ways: (1) the specific curricular changes that might result could be used in many other communities; and (2) the transformation model could be adopted by those other communities, if it should prove effective here.

Summary Statement

While the community envisioned in this proposal is similar to that in many other proposals, the curriculum transformation model is described in much more detail. This model is feasible and valuable.