Choreography, Composition, and Computation
This morning, I made my way over the light and drifted snow to class, taking in the beautiful, snow-blanketed visa of campus.
I was nervous; we have an ambitious undertaking this term, with a DCS102 offering that is deeply connected to courses in choreography taught by Prof. Rachel Boggia and digital music composition by Prof. Bill Matthews. We’ll say more as we go (like the awesome connections to the Bates Dance Festival), but for now, let’s just say that students will be integrating choreography, composition, and computation in a deeply integrative performance by the end of the term. It’s an incredible undertaking, and I can’t help worry about details… but, really, if we’re working hard, learning new things, and trying to do cool stuff… what can go wrong?
As part of DCS 102: Design of Computational Systems, I have been making a point of beginning the term with three questions for the students:
- What are you excited about?
- What are you concerned about?
- What are your dreams for the course?
We take a few minutes on each question, writing down as many (or as few) answers to the question as we can come up with, one per sticky note. I have not yet photographed all of them, but will. For now, I thought I’d share a few to give a flavor for the hopes and concerns that I’ve seen both last term and this term.
In the are of things people are excited about…
Transcription: I am excited to take my first DCS class. I don’t have any experience in the subject, but am excited to learn.
I don’t know what else you can ask for as an educator: students, coming into your classroom, excited to learn. What makes me sad about computing, as a discipline, is that so many students clearly are turned off by their experiences in classrooms around the world. Keeping it local, if students walk into my classroom with this eagerness, then that means that (to a significant degree—if we assume I am an influential agent in the learning that takes place in my classroom), it is through my words and my actions that I can diminish this enthusiasm. From NCWIT, the National Center for Women and Information Technology, we know that (quote) in 2016, 26% of the computing workforce were women, and less than 10% were women of color. (5% were Asian, 3% were African-American, and 2% were Hispanic.)
I don’t know who wrote that sticky, but my class is roughly 50% women. My job is to create a challenging, engaging, transformational classroom experience where that willingness to learn is nourished, not extinguished for all of my students. Given the national numbers, it is clear that women have been experiencing hostile and discriminatory classrooms in computing for a long time. My response to that is “not in my classroom, and not on my watch.” It is my job to banish the biases and discriminatory practices that have permeated the culture of computing for decades from my professional practice as an educator. I’ll happily do that every day, and if I’m successful, over time, then DCS@Bates will help shift those depressing, workforce-level percentages.
As a colleague said to me recently: that shouldn’t be the radical statement that it is.
Transcription: Computers are becoming more and more important in the workplace and at schools, and I believe it is important to know how they function.
This is essentially the premise of DCS at Bates: computing is a liberal art, and thinking algorithmically (or, more broadly, computationally) is deeply integrated in many (every?) disciplines today.
It is also begs the critical question that a new digital/computational program must answer: how do you provide computational experiences for students that honor and integrate their learning across the breadth of the liberal arts? There is no field untouched by computation, and the student who understands how computing relates to their passions and expertise, and can leverage that understanding, will stand apart from those who cannot leverage.
Did I say I was biased? I’m biased. In short, I agree with my student.
The students in DCS102 had concerns as well.
Transcription: I am worried about high expectations for [DCS] and a very large workload.
I’m reminded of Yoda’s comment to Luke in Empire:
Transcription: You should be. You should be.
I have high expectations. They’re communicated through our syllabus, and the assignments ahead of us. But, the TAs and I are there to help you succeed. You’ll have to stretch, though. That’s part of the fun, as far as I’m concerned. (There’s whole fields of research and theoretic literature in this space; start with serious play, and explore from there.)
Transcription: Class is pretty big. One-to-one time would be scarce.
Yes, and no. We’ve brought on a large pool of excellent TAs; we should have roughly a 1:8 ratio of support-to-students when we’re working/exploring/innovating/debugging in the classroom. And, honestly, my time is your time: I’m here to see you succeed. My office hours, as described in the syllabus, are just a vain hope on my part: all I do is put them in to make the administration happy, and to guarantee that none of you are able to meet me during those hours. As a result, I get a lot of work done during office hours.
I have never had students say that I was unapproachable or unavailable. I will make my schedule work to make sure you have the support you need to succeed. However, you must take the first step. I can’t always intuit when you need help. Remind me, in class, to tell you a story about my experience in Electromagnetic Theory with Professor Idoine. Short version: it’s a morality tale about a student who didn’t ask for the help he needed.
The TAs will also run evening support hours. And, further, I live within walking distance of campus; if we have to meet in the evenings to help you in your learning, we will. It’s just that simple. (Worry not about support, say I. Mmm?)
Hopes and Dreams
And then there’s the hopes and dreams.
Transcription: A cumulative project that allows to both analyze a relationship between technology and society, that also involves the coding learned in the course.
Well, shiznit. You just wrote the prompt for the essay that wraps up your final portfolio!
Did I mention the deeply integrative project involving dance, electronic music, and computing? And, the fact that we’re going to be reading, writing, and reflecting on collaboration and inclusion all semester long? I think I did! (Well, I did in class.) Consider your dreams delivered, my friend!
Well, I think so. Perhaps you disagree. Feel free to make an appointment… er, during office hours? Not free at that time? How about lunch? Er, Friday afternoon…
Transcription: I hope this course will be fun.
Amen and huzzah.
To my students: I hear you, I feel you, and I want nothing but success for you. Do something awesome this term by diving in, taking risks, and become the national leaders in integrating choreography, composition, and computing at the undergraduate level. Let the love of learning sustain you, with love and devotion, and while you’re at it… have a blast doing it.
I’ll see you all again come April. Rachel, Bill, and I can’t wait to see where you take us.
Hiring: Tenure Track Faculty in DCS
Digital and Computational Studies at Bates College is hiring.
We occupy a unique space at Bates at a fascinating time in history.
- First, our remit is to bring computational thinking, practices, and theory to the full breadth of the liberal arts curriculum. This means we are unbound from the silos that traditionally restrict Computer Science programs, and can instead ask (and pursue answers to) meaningful questions about what computing education should look like as part of a liberal arts education.
- Second, we have the opportunity to interrogate and challenge the conventions of the discipline deeply, and in doing so, make real the Bates commitment to the transformative power of difference. Put simply, we can bring questions of what a just and equitable computational program should be in higher education today, propose answers to those questions, implement, reflect, and improve year-after-year.
- Finally, although implied by #1 and #2, we do this in community. We have collaborators across campus amongst the students, staff, and faculty who are excited to imagine and make real the dream of DCS at Bates. Trustees, alumni, and members of the surrounding community are likewise excited to see where we take this program.
You might work with textual analysis of social networks in Political Science, or you might relish data analytics and computational modeling (agent based, numerical…) in Mathematics or Economics. Perhaps you’re a computational chemist, an artist who integrates tangible computing into your craft, or perhaps your scholarly work and passions break down barriers of disciplinary discourse through digital and computational means that we haven’t considered before. You might also be a computer scientist who feels like the traditional confines of the CS curriculum is failing to realize the mission of your institution, and that we can do so much more to engage our students in the world around them through computational means.
Or, perhaps you’re just graduating with your PhD, and what you know is that this is the amazing opportunity that you pursued that damn degree for in the first place: to develop as an educator and scholar in a beautiful part of the world in community with awesome colleagues.
The body text of the position description is included below, and review of applications begins January 8th.
If you have questions, drop a line. Any questions that are above the search chair’s pay grade (questions of rank at time of hire, PhD completion timeline, etc.) will be handled on a case-by-case basis. We’re remarkably flexible people here.
Digital and Computational Studies at Bates College invites applications for a tenure-track assistant professor in this newly established interdisciplinary program. As the second of three faculty to be hired in this program, you will play a critical role defining how the study of computing at Bates can engage the full breadth of the liberal arts. Our task is to grow a program that embraces and supports all students, regardless of background and prior experience, in the process of learning and questioning the practices, values, cultures, and assumptions of the digital world. This program deeply believes in our institutional commitment to the transformative power of difference, and we welcome applications from all individuals who can contribute to our collective goals of equity and inclusion through their teaching, scholarship, and mentorship (https://bates.edu/dcs/values/).
This appointment begins August 1, 2018. The field of specialization is open: your practice may be grounded in a disciplinary context (arts, sciences, etc.) or eschew traditional disciplinary boundaries altogether. The teaching load at Bates is five courses per year. Critical to your work will be the development and delivery of a core curriculum in this new program, including software design and development (introductory through advanced), design thinking, the theories underlying those practices, and placing students’ learning in a broad societal context. For more information about DCS at Bates, see our webpage (https://bates.edu/dcs/).
DCS is new, and so am I!
Digital and Computational Studies (DCS) is a new program at Bates. Like all new programs, it doesn’t yet know what its courses will grow up to be, who its students will be, or what great things DCS graduates will go on to do. Hence why I chose Phyllis Graber Jensen’s photo of a Bates student competing in the long jump as a representative image for this post: we’ve landed, dynamically, after an intense sprint forward from a complete standstill.
Like Digital and Computational Studies, I am new to Bates. However, unlike DCS, I have some ideas as to what its courses will be like, and what I hope for our students. For example, I believe we need to develop a course of study that does not assume students have prior experience with the practice of computing or computational thinking: every student Bates admits should, with ardor and devotion, be able to succeed in their study of computing in the DCS program at Bates.
Now, I have more thoughts than that, but this is just a first post. Unpacking these ideas, and exploring what it means to create an interdisciplinary program in computing that engages computationally across the breadth of the liberal arts is not the stuff of light-hearted first posts. This year, I’m working on listening to faculty, staff, and students to understand Bates, its history, and its culture. This “listening tour” will inform the development of values, curricular structure, learning goals, outcomes, and the content and method of the courses we offer.
But I won’t do those things alone. Over the next two years, DCS will be hiring two more faculty. The empathetic foundation of the listening tour will not just inform the program, but also guide the hiring of two more faculty in DCS, both of whom will play a significant role in defining this program at Bates College. Watch this space for more information on that front.
If you have questions about . the program, its direction, or just want to reach out and say “hi,” please feel free to drop me a note (mjadud@bates), or leave a comment below.