Charles Wallace Selected for Deans’ Teaching Showcase

Charles Wallace

by Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning

College of Computing Dean Dennis Livesay has selected Charles Wallace as this week’s featured instructor in the Deans’ Teaching Showcase. Wallace, associate professor of computer science and associate dean for curriculum and instruction in the College of Computing, will be recognized at an end-of-term event with other showcase members and is a candidate for the CTL Instructional Award Series.

Wallace helped establish CS3000 Ethical and Social Aspects of Computing as a required course for computer science and software engineering majors. The course takes a broad, critical perspective on computing technology. Wallace finds that his students are up for the challenge: “Today’s students are more techno-streetwise than members of my generation. Having grown up immersed in social media, they understand its potential for exploitation and abuse as well as good, and they are eager and able to investigate technology with a more mature, critical mindset.”

As Wallace and his colleague Alexandra Morrison (HU) explain in a joint article, “our primary mission in the ethics classroom [is] one of de-familiarization” — i.e., breaking habits of perception to generate new insights and perspectives. CS3000 students work in small teams on iterative exercises with repeated stages of reflection and revision, exploring computing technology within contexts very different from their own, and rethinking agency: considering the ways in which the tools they build have power of their own to shape perceptions and guide behavior.

Student feedback showed appreciation for the interactive, grounded nature of the course:

“We could have just worked through ethical ideas from the textbook and hypothetical examples, but instead we actually had weekly material involving real-world stories and relevant industry current events.”

“Encouraging discussion and participation allowing people to bring their own perspectives was much better than trying to force discussion in any one direction.”

Wallace also teaches CS5311 Theory of Computation, a required course for computer science graduate students that explores the mathematical foundations and limits of computation. Like CS3000, this course has a defamiliarizing effect that Wallace believes gives students a broader understanding: “Above all, it’s humbling to discover all the interesting problems that computers can not solve!” Students work in small teams on regular assignments. Friday ad hoc recitation sessions, where Wallace and his students meet informally to discuss the week’s material, have become a tradition. Often the students, rather than the instructor, have the compelling insights at recitation.

Student feedback supports the course’s collaborative structure:

“The homework grading system reduces stress while still giving feedback in time for exams. I liked the small group meetings to go over the homework — it helped me understand what I did wrong better than just looking at the answer key.”

“The meeting system helped me understand where my mistakes were and if I was thinking in the wrong direction. Study sessions are also great!”

Wallace’s student evaluation scores for both courses were in the top 10% of Michigan Tech instructors. Livesay was impressed by both the breadth and the quality of Wallace’s teaching efforts. “Dr. Wallace’s excellent teaching complements the many other efforts he is engaged in to improve curriculum and instruction in the College,” he noted.

Department of Computer Science Chair Zhenlin Wang agreed. “Dr. Wallace’s willingness to make extra efforts on his students’ behalf sets a high bar for all of us.”