A widening gap exists between employer-perceived lack of workplace-readiness and academic preparation of computing graduates. Even as employers continue to hire such graduates, many major employers have themselves entered the education space to offer training certificates likely to be used akin to traditional undergraduate degrees.
Concurrent with the development of alternative computing credentials has been an increased focus on competency-based education. Competencies clarify the depth of the various non-standard credentials that have emerged, as they reflect a way to assess skills. Higher education computing curricular guidelines, such as IT2017 and CC2020 from ACM and IEEE Computer Society, have also emphasized competencies.
With a strong and diverse set of key change-enablers in computing education, the project team is advocating for competency-based curricula in computing, developing an evidence-based approach to informing the content of such curricula, and promoting a change management process to catalyze transformational change in computing higher education.
The project builds on a seminal workshop, funded by the National Science Foundation, which was attended by a substantial academic team and both senior executives and rank-and-file practitioners from top computing companies. The attendees included members of the industry advisory board of ABET, the nation’s accrediting agency. The attending faculty represented diverse institutions: research, public and private, liberal arts colleges, and community colleges. The key takeaways from this workshop were a nuanced understanding of the inherent tensions in the curricular design of programs, recognition of academia’s strengths, a clearer description of workplace readiness, and most importantly, a strong desire to continue to engage with this process to drive curricular enhancements to educate the next generation of computing professionals.
The proposed project has three interconnected strands of activities, each with its associated outcomes. First, a national process strand will engage with employers and faculty nationwide, via industry to develop a national practioner survey and use the survey data to shape future computing curricula. Second, a local pilot strand will focus on an ecosystem of three Alabama institutions (University of Alabama, Tuskegee, and Shelton State Community College) to create transformative curricular change based on student competencies using an effective change management model. Sociologists on the project team will also help to understand and predict barriers to competency-based employment of graduates from marginalized communities.
The third strand will develop competency-based instruments for practitioners and academics to drill down to specific competencies that will be actionable for driving curricular change. Unifying these strands will be an established change management process.
Building on previous collaborations among the three institutions in the local Alabama ecosystem, the project will explore the computing competency model in the heart of the impoverished Alabama Black Belt. The unique perspective relative to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) needs can serve as a model for other computing departments.
As the competency viewpoint in curricular design is relatively new in computing and engineering disciplines, this project has the potential to impact curricular review and design in other STEM disciplines. Finally, the developed change management tools can be adapted easily to effect change in other STEM programs. For example, the proposed national survey for computing employers can stimulate other STEM disciplines into organizing similar large-scale feedback. The dissemination plan ensures that these impacts can be achieved.