Thursday, September 07, 2006

I hear they are redoing the Computer Science curriculum

I wanted to start writing about how SIUC could start to turn itself around. Might was well start with my old department of Computer Science. Turns out one of the programmers who works for me part-time has been invited to help review the CS curriculum and he wanted to know what I thought.

A little history, when I was a CS major in 1980-84, they had 1000 majors. They have 100 or so now. The department has no external funding for research (or certainly are underachieving in a big way). The chairman to his credit served for a few years and stepped down, but because of a split in the department was put back in when the professors couldn't find someone else they agreed on. Their weak Dean hasn't come in and fixed this, but maybe the new dean will go out and get a new chair in the next couple of years and help move things forward. I'm going to publish the WAG report in the next couple of days, and they list CS as a department that could get large external funding and has "virtually none." There are lots of good people in the department, but they have been ineffective lead for many years based on results.

Anyway, back to curriculum issues. At first I said what any computer pro might say, which can be summarized in this link. Then I asked who was on the committee, were there any pros? No. My first suggestion was to go to look at Stanford and MIT's CS curriculum online and steal from them. MIT has all CS documents online, everything from class notes to lectures slides to problem sets.

I told him that the department would be well served to form an External Advisory Board (EAB) and round up the successful graduates of the program to get help and money. It is hard to believe they haven't done this, it is so clearly best practice.

But after thinking about it for another day, I feel that the SIUC CS department has the same problems as the University in general. The department is full of good people, but they have no mission, no management direction, and no marketing message. There is nothing special about the department, they are a department with average publications, no outside funding, below average students, just limping along until retirement. There is nothing to "Make Meaning"(slide 2) as Guy Kawasaki would preach.

I'm going to suggest something really crazy to the computer science department now. Get to be special in something in the teaching and marketing (when I write marketing, I mean marketing for the department) area. For example, brand the department as a great place for students to learn design of user interfaces, testing, program management, or innovation. Over in the College of Business the college advisory committee recommended branding the college in this way last meeting (because there is a new dean I will not tell you what direction they recommended. Search to the bottom of this page for a clue). Let students, employers and organizations that give money to universities know that you have a special niche that will help them.

Granted, if you go down this path not everyone will love you. But, wouldn't that be worth if for a chance a success?

I'm amazed that CS doesn't have a EAB, didn't invite me to be on their curriculum committee and has never sent anyone over to hit me up for money. It is almost like they don't want to win.

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