The Future of Computer Science and Engineering Education

Computer science (CS) now has a foundational role in virtually all fields of science, in applied sciences and engineering, and in every aspect of the global economy.   This has profound implications for post-secondary education worldwide as curricula, degrees, and educational facilities are re-configured, or created anew, to adapt to the central role of computer science in both academic disciplines and the economy.   The New Advisory Group was retained, by a global architecture and engineering firm working with Kuwait University, to provide insight about how the changing role of computer science on campus and in industry should affect the design of new complex of buildings dedicated to computer science and engineering.

Six trends (or shifts that are already almost complete) set the stage for thinking about new facilities for computer science and engineering:

a.    Many leading schools of computer science have adopted a CS + X approach to curriculum design.  This acknowledges the foundational nature of computer science as the X represents a disciplinary focus/purpose for the application of computer science such as CS + Biology (a popular pre-med degree) or CS + Linguistics (natural language processing).  Stanford University Computer Science is one example.  

b.    Course content is increasingly digital and, therefore, can be both personalized and online.  Students spend less time in lecture classes hearing content delivered by an instructor and more time absorbing personalized, on-demand content delivered to their mobile devices.

c.    Students meet primarily for interactive and experiential learning.  They meet with each other and with instructors or teaching assistants to get questions answered, discuss content and receive f2f instruction to solidify an understanding of the material., Opportunities to learn from peers and instructors often employ team approaches to more fully engage students in problem assignments and projects.

c.    Classroom or project interaction is increasingly a blend of local (face-to-face) and remote (individual students or groups of students at other locations).   High quality remote interaction technology (cameras, screens, microphones) is changing the nature of synchronous classes and unhooking class size from square footage of classrooms.

e.    Students share courses and problem- and project-based learning with students from many other colleges or departments in the university.  The role of CSE as a foundational discipline in the 21st century means that it should lead other disciplines in the engagement of complementary fields and in providing educational experiences that engage other disciplines such as engineering, mathematics, architecture, and the arts.

f.    Students need to be engaged with industry, government, and the community as part of their education.  This is particularly true for problem- and project-based learning, and in entrepreneurship activities and industry-related projects. 

These trends have direct consequences for design of computer science and engineering (CSE) educational facilities buildings:

a.    CSE facilities should be open, welcoming, and easily accessible to all students as well as to working professionals from industry.

b.    Configuration of CSE should re-balance educational space needs away from fixed classroom space toward flexible, reconfigurable learning spaces (movable walls, moveable tables and seating, able to accommodate non-computer devices such as 3D printer).   Much space should be “remote” enabled.  This requires special attention to:

  1. Connectivity (for stationary and mobile devices)
  2. Power (especially for student’s mobile devices)
  3. Access and storage (non-computer devices and equipment)

c.    Special spaces and features should support:

  1. Production and consumption of digital content for online, personalized education.
  2. Provision, maintenance and use of specialized equipment such as cameras, robots, 3D printers, drones, etc.   

d.    Laboratory/project space at CSE needs to support a wide variety of CSE and CSE+X research, learning, and industrial engagement.  Exemplary content areas include: a) internet of things; b) sensor networks; c) AR/VR; d) robotics; e) autonomous vehicles; f) visualization; and g) VLSI/chips.

e.    Lab/project space for CSE and CSE+X needs to be flexible and reconfigurable for multiple uses including:

  1. Academic research labs
  2. Problem- or project-based learning for CSE and CSE + X
  3. Industrial engagement and light industrial research facilities which can be controlled by industrial partners
  4. Student or startup incubator space