Georgia Tech School of Computing Instruction faculty and staff, Fall 2023

'SCI's the Limit' for School Celebrating its First Anniversary and Collaborative Spirit

The School of Computing Instruction (SCI) celebrates its first anniversary as a school within Georgia Tech's College of Computing this fall. The milestone marks a year of collaboration and innovation following its transition from the Division of Computing Instruction (DCI).

SCI, which is preferably pronounced as 'sky', is the first school at a public institution dedicated solely to undergraduate computing education and innovative scholarship for teaching computing to all levels.

Becoming a School

Like most schools in the College, SCI started as a division. Former dean Charles Isbell spearheaded the elevation of DCI, a longstanding home to the College's teaching faculty, to a school-level unit. The move reflects the importance the College places on providing world-class computer science (CS) instruction while recognizing the efforts of its teaching faculty.

Georgia Tech School of Computing Instruction first anniversary graphic

"Over the past couple of decades, we've seen our unit grow from a handful of lecturers teaching mainly 1000- and 2000-level courses into a division, then into a school of nearly 20 faculty who are increasingly teaching upper-division and graduate-level courses," SCI Inaugural Chair Olufisayo Omojokun said.

"SCI faculty are committed to making a difference at all levels of computing instruction within the College, the Institute, and the larger CS community," SCI Associate Chair Mary Hudachek-Buswell said.

Lecturer Pedro Guillermo Feijóo-García recently joined SCI and says he's looking forward to growing with the school.

"I couldn't ignore applying for the job and chose SCI because everyone made me feel at home. I loved the energy and the opportunity to grow as a CS educator and a researcher in computing education," he said. "It's been a fantastic experience so far."

Undergraduate Teaching and TA Mentorship

A Georgia Tech mandate requiring every undergraduate student to complete an introductory programming course and record-setting CS enrollment means that SCI faculty teach approximately half of the College's credit hours. It also means that they teach more students than any other academic unit.

Undergraduate courses taught by SCI cover a wide range, as shown in the Spring 2023 snapshot below.

Graph depicting Spring 2023 semester courses taught by School of Computing Instruction faculty

This graph is just one semester. SCI faculty regularly teach other undergraduate courses like CS 2200 (Computer Systems and Networks, CS 3510 (Design & Analysis of Algorithms), and CS 4010 (Intro to Computer Law), which are joint efforts with other units.

To keep up with the growing enrollment in computing, the school employs about 500 teaching assistants (TAs) each semester. Training TAs is essential to the success of the students in SCI courses. SCI's partnership with Georgia Tech's Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) has been crucial to supporting the TAs development.

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"SCI recognizes that TAs are an indispensable part of the instructional team, which is why they invest time and effort to prepare undergraduate and graduate TAs," said Assistant Director of TA Development and Future Faculty Initiatives Kate Williams.

For years, CTL has helped prepare students for TA positions through training sessions and grading workshops and has facilitated TA awards.

"There has to be substantial orchestration happening to teach nearly half of the credits of the undergraduate computing curriculum," Omojokun said. "Making these courses a success has taken more than SCI faculty; it's required collaboration across the Institute."

Collaborating With Other Academic Units 

CS is inherently interdisciplinary, so collaboration is one of Omojokun's primary objectives. Over the years, SCI, in its multiple forms, has built strong relationships with faculty from each of the four other schools within the College to support its teaching and scholarship mission. But SCI also has a history of teaming with units outside the College.

More than a decade ago, SCI and the School of Literature, Media, and Communication's Writing and Communication Program (WCP) developed a new model for technical communication and CS Capstone Design through the Junior Design Sequence. Led by two co-instructors, typically a faculty member from SCI and a Marion L. Brittain Postdoctoral Fellow from WCP, the Junior Design classes are sites of innovative teaching in both CS and technical communication.

Georgia Tech computational media major Rose Rosado
(above) Georgia Tech computational media major Rose Rosado shares their work during the Spring 2023 Computer Science Junior Design Capstone. (photo by Terence Rushin/College of Computing) (top) SCI faculty and staff pose for a team photo during a recent retreat.

This integrated the software development capstone with technical communication so that CS students gained hands-on education that simulated the work they would be doing after graduation.

"From the point of view of the Brittain Fellows, teaching in such a unique course sequence has been valuable for their careers, with former teachers going on to positions in academia and industry. WCP is excited to continue working with SCI to provide students with a transformative educational experience," said Director of WCP Andy Frazee.

But the partnership between WCP and SCI is about more than just teaching.

In 2018, SCI Senior Lecturer Melinda McDaniel had the opportunity to collaborate with three instructors and a fellow student on an interdisciplinary panel presentation at the ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education (SIGCSE) held in Baltimore. The primary objective of the presentation was to highlight the importance of integrating writing skills with developing client-driven software products.

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"This research project, conducted in collaboration with instructors from LMC, significantly enhanced my understanding of how the fusion of writing skills and technical expertise could mutually benefit our students," McDaniel said. "The positive response from the audience at the SIGCSE conference underscored the value of such interdisciplinary research within the education community."

SCI also partners with other schools for course offerings. For example, Omojokun and Senior Attorney and School of Public Policy Lecturer Laura Huffman co-teach the Introduction to Computer Law class mentioned earlier. There, students learn about intellectual property from a computing-centric perspective.

"I love the relationship between Public Policy and CS because the world needs that interaction. Computer scientists need to understand why paying attention to the public policy arena is important because it could affect them big time," Huffman said.

"And I love public policy students getting exposure to CS. It's a good cross-pollination, making the students more valuable in either field."

Georgia Tech School of Computing Instruction Inaugural Chair Olufisayo Omojokun speaking with a student
Georgia Tech School of Computing Instruction Inaugural Chair Olufisayo Omojokun speaks with a student during the Spring 2023 CS Junior Design Capstone. (photo by Terence Rushin/College of Computing) 

Additionally, the recent appointment of Mechanical Engineering Professor Craig Forest as SCI's first cross-college adjunct faculty member represents another example. As CREATE-X associate director, Forest partnered with Omojokun in 2018 to co-teach the Institute's first multi-college capstone section (CS 4853-X). The CREATE-X Capstone course has engineering and CS students working together on projects with startup potential.

"Historically, CS students had not been involved with this class. However, problems that students are passionate about solving require multidisciplinary teams. CS is essential to the batch of needed skills," Forest said.

"Right away, we saw how powerful this combination of engineers and computer scientists working together was. SCI has always been a willing and eager partner to try experiments and boldly move toward this future direction. Every step of the way, they've risen to the challenge."

In recent semesters, SCI faculty Rodrigo Borela Valente, Dan Forsyth, Ricky Landry, Nimisha Roy, and others have engaged in the course.

Looking Toward the Future

This anniversary is not only a time to celebrate past achievements but also to look ahead. Becoming a school provides resources that can continue to open doors for faculty and students.

"Working with other colleges and units is part of what makes SCI great, and we continue to welcome new ideas and even faculty appointments from across the Institute," Omojokun said.

To keep up with the latest SCI updates, visit the school's website and follow it on Twitter.