Tag: wallace

Computer Science Undergrads Publish Book

A World of Java Programing SmCopper Country Coders (CCCoders) is an organization that introduces local students in middle and high school to the world of computer science and programming. Michigan Tech undergraduate and graduate computer science students volunteer as instructors and mentors under the guidance of Computer Science faculty members Leo Ureel and Charles Wallace.

Last year, volunteers Marissa Walther and Shaun Flynn focused on teaching students how to develop in Java and create games using JavaFX. What began as a class assignment for CS 4099 Directed Study in Computer Science Education developed into a book based off of the CCCoders curriculum. The book, “A World of Java Programming” has since been published and is now available on Amazon.

About the authors:  Marissa is a third year Computer Science major who participates in the Husky Game Development Enterprise. She is a member of CCCoders, the Huskies Pep Band and the Superior Wind Symphony. Marissa is also a Computer Science Learning Center Coach and the office assistant for the Engineering Fundamentals Department.  Shaun is a third year Computer Engineering major. He is a project manager for Blue Marble Security Enterprise and vice president of Eta Kappa Nu (HKN). On the weekends, Shaun teaches a middle school programing class through CCCoders with Marissa. He also works as a lab assistant for CS 1121 Introduction to Programming.


In the News

17An AP news article titled “Michigan Tech Students Teach Tech to the Inexperienced,” which features Michigan Tech’s BASIC (Building Adult Skills in Computing) program, Charles Wallace (CS), and Kelly Steelman (CLS), was published in the Charlotte Observer, Kansas City Star, Miami Herald, Washington Times, and many other news outlets across the country.

Drs. Wallace and Steelman were also featured on our blog post, Breaking Digital Barriers, last month highlighting their research.


Better Communication and Collaboration in Computer Science

Communication and teamwork are essential skills for computer science and software engineering graduates—but the traditional approach to introductory undergraduate computer science courses, focusing on individual programming assignments and discouraging collaboration, doesn’t prepare students for reality. Charles Wallace breaks the mold and promotes interaction as a primary activity in software development. Inspired by real software teams using so-called agile methods, he and his team are building an introductory curriculum that gives students exposure to interpersonal activities like inquiry, critique, and reflection.

Better Computer Science Education through Chemistry

One tool in this effort—POGIL (Process-Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning)—is borrowed from undergraduate chemistry education, where it has been used successfully for 20 years. At the heart of POGIL is a guided inquiry learning cycle of exploration, concept invention, and application. Students work in small groups with well-defined roles—similarly to teams in agile software development—to encourage accountability and engagement. In essence, it is an application of the scientific method in a carefully crafted classroom setting. In addition to learning core concepts at the heart of the assignment, students get practice in team problem solving and communication.

WebTA is a software tool being developed by Wallace and his colleagues to provide automated critique of student programs. The tool is integrated with the Canvas Learning Management System to provide immediate feedback to students as they write code. Students using this tool are engaged in communication-by-proxy with the instructor. This communication is not meant to replace instructor feedback, but to codify common feedback scenarios to assist the instructor in reaching students in tight feedback loops just when the student is engaged in problem solving and learning (for instance, at 3 a.m. when the instructor is fast asleep). The instructor configures WebTA with interactive critiques triggered by errors, warnings, or textual analysis of the student’s code.

A third tool draws from research Wallace and a group of interdisciplinary colleagues conducted on team communication in software settings. Drawing from real-world examples including student projects and industrial case studies, students reflect on the characteristics and effectiveness of the written and oral communication they observe. The goal is to create a mindset that good communication requires design—choosing the right characteristics for the given setting. Later, when they are working with their own projects, students reflect on their own communication practices and those of other teams.

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Learning from Professionals

Trends come and go in the field of software development, but communication between humans remains at its heart. Wallace is interested in deriving principles of effective software communication by turning to industry experts. Software developers communicate with clients, end users, and team members with very different perspectives and goals. Communication can cause problems because of the complexity (and invisibility) of software, competing goals of different stakeholders, a lack of universal vocabulary, and incomplete and changing requirements. Even professional software engineers who are effective communicators do not have practice in articulating what makes communication effective (or ineffective). A major obstacle is a lack of a common language for discussing the specialized forms of communication taking place in software teams and between developers and other stakeholders.

Through ethnographic studies of student teams and professional developers, Wallace is building a body of knowledge on communication practices. Ethnography looks at cultures from an insider perspective. Wallace’s colleagues in computer science and humanities, working as ethnographers, provided insider studies that reveal how communication practices are established and evolve over time. They are deriving patterns of effective practices—patterns that can be replicated time and again, in a variety of settings. In addition to contributing to the software development community’s library of patterns, Wallace and his colleagues are bringing the notion of communication pattern back to computer science students, helping them understand and analyze team software development.


Breaking Digital Barriers

Associate Professor of Computer Science Charles Wallace is rethinking cyberlearning top to bottom. He’s working with K–12 and undergraduate students, software development professionals, and senior citizens to improve how humans communicate and learn in computer-intensive environments.

Digital literacy is a basic human need.

There is a revolution sweeping the nation, but millions of senior citizens are left out. Wallace believes digital literacy is a basic human need in today’s world. In 2011, together with Michigan Tech faculty and students, he began BASIC (Building Adult Skills in Computing), a grassroots effort to educate older Americans. Every Saturday morning at Portage Lake District Library in Houghton, Michigan Tech students help local seniors citizens with their computers, tablets, or smartphones, answering open-ended digital questions like, “how do I find an old friend on Facebook?” Or, “how do I stay safe online?”

There’s much more going on during these tutoring sessions than meets the eye. “The visual, motor, and cognitive challenges of standard digital interfaces are daunting for older users with limited digital experience,” explains Wallace. But there are deeper challenges as well: “digital literacy is not simply about doing a task better; it’s about building a cognitive toolset that allows flexibility and adaptability.” The Michigan Tech students who work as tutors also learn in the process. “Students are forced to reflect on the many things they take for granted—they are learning by teaching.”

A key factor behind the success of BASIC, according to Wallace, is its highly social nature. Seniors work side by side with each other and with Michigan Tech students. Being around others with the same challenges reduces anxiety. “Many seniors have a fear of exploring for fear of breaking an expensive investment. Because we work in a group, they can share ideas and choices they made, so they have more confidence.”

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Now in its fifth year, the outreach program has spawned research projects. In conjunction with Professor Kelly Steelman, Cognitive and Learning Sciences, Wallace uses data from tutor experiences to create a digital learning curriculum sensitive to the needs of older students. He is also reaching out to other communities to replicate the successful Houghton-based program.

In addition to the curriculum, Wallace is overseeing the creation of a computer software tool that allows users to remember online choices they made and recall web browser behavior. As the user develops competence, the tool fades into the background. This tool can transfer to other populations—not just elderly—who face similar digital obstacles.

The initiative is supported through Michigan Tech’s crowdfunding site Superior Ideas. Learn more about Breaking Digital Barriers.


Computer Science Faculty, Students Teach Kids to Code

1481146201Charles Wallace and Leo Ureel, along with two of their graduate students and six undergraduates in Computer Science, are spending time in Houghton and Hancock schools this week, giving elementary, middle and high school students hands-on experience with computer coding.

The programs are in observance of Computer Science Education Week. They include two Hour of Code events at Houghton Elementary School, one multi-day event at Houghton High School and one at Hancock Middle School. At each Hour of Code, students learn to write code, primarily using the Scratch programming language.

“We are using a tutorial developed by Michigan Tech alumna Nichole Yarroch,” Wallace said. “We are also letting students know about Computer Science and Software Engineering degrees at Tech, as well as our Copper Country Coders group that meets on the weekends.”

This is the third year that CS faculty and students have conducted Hour of Code programs at local schools.


Associate Professor Charles Wallace receives NSF funding for a 5-year project partnering with Arizona State, Penn State, and Rutgers

image45069-persAssociate Professor Charles Wallace received NSF funding through a 5-year project that has a total budget of $2,983,358 and involves researchers from Michigan Tech, Arizona State, Penn State, and Rutgers.

The project is titled “Climate Change Mitigation via Reducing Household Food, Energy and Water Consumption: A Quantitative Analysis of Interventions and Impacts of Conservation.” The PI is David Watkins in Civil and Environmental Engineering at Michigan Tech. Associate Professor Charles Wallace’s share of the budget is approximately $105,529 and includes grad student support in the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 academic years, as well as four years of undergraduate student support.

He and his students will develop a software application that allows homeowners to monitor the environmental costs of their consumption.

This collaborative project not only supports our graduate and undergraduate students, but also helps promote the department’s internal and external visibility.