College of Computing News

Online CS Course Gives Students Unique Opportunity

A new online computer science course is giving students the opportunity to put their education and skills to use to solve real world problems.

The Computing for Good course draws on both the self-focused and altruistic sides of students by presenting computer science as a viable way to solve problems of personal interest as well as problems that are important to society.

During the class, students work with nonprofits and other organizations to develop computing solutions to aid them in their mission. Past projects have been devoted to promoting education and awareness of environmental and food access issues.

Although the course has been offered before in-person, this past spring was the first time the course was offered online as part of Georgia Tech’s Online Master of Science in Computer Science (OMSCS) program. The recent class included ten student projects, with around half of these being tested and deployed into use by the partner organizations.

Computer Science Professor Santosh Vempala, who teaches the course, said it gives students an opportunity to use their knowledge and skills in a real-world application.

“It’s hard to find a domain where some kind of computer science or computing idea won’t be useful,” Vempala said. “Anything from a website that works well or a way to streamline a process would be helpful.

“All of the focus is on making the best possible contribution to the organization’s effort, but the students also learn a lot about using what they know to create a practical solution,” Vempala said.

Dante Ciolfi, an OMSCS alumnis and the head teaching assistant for the course, said that the students he worked with loved the class and the challenge of their chosen project.

“Students that take course, they want to make this impact and they’re excited about its project-based nature and the opportunity to make a difference,” he said. “I like when students accomplish something and challenge themselves. We saw a lot of that, and it was a cool experience to see it all come together.”

OMSCS student Iris Ho’s project focused on a program that could be used by secondary schools to help students who may be at risk.

The program they created used machine learning to predict which students might need extra attention or help in the classroom. The group partnered with a New York City public school and tested the project on the school’s eighth grade students.

Ho said that the school was temporarily able to implement their project and that many of the school’s teachers found it was a useful tool to aid their students.

“When you're developing and testing something, there are always some frustrations. But being able to create a goal and propose our idea and then seeing that be fulfilled was the really exciting part of the course,” Ho said.