Issue 4 | 2011
Course close up
The Olivetian 13
So what exactly will Computing Foundations for the Scientist (CCSIS 331/NSCI 331) look like?
Taught by Dr. Larry Vail, with several science professors as guest lecturers 4 computing modules and 10 science modules Designed for second semester freshman and sophomore science majors who have completed one lab course and calculus Brings students from various science disciplines together in the same class to study: Computing foundations and computational science Math/numerical analysis — roots of equations and curve fitting Biology — bioinformatics and cladograms Chemistry — kinetics and molecular modeling Engineering — analysis/design and data acquisition Geology — geographic information systems (GIS)
Jerald says, “This experience enhances my programming skills. Interacting with students from the biological sciences department is fun, too.” Kaylie is appreciating the power of bioinformatics, applying computer science and information technology to the fields of biology and medicine. All three are excited about adding this experience to their résumés. “We have the opportunity to learn beyond what we are learning in the curriculum for our majors,” Kaylie says. “I’ve already used one module to teach myself binary [code],” Sam adds. “I wouldn’t have learned that otherwise.” Kaylie interjects, “We’re learning the ideas and foundations of computing that Dr. Bareiss and Dr. Vail understand so well — and that are completely foreign to us. This is a new language for us as science majors, a different playing field.”
Professors as learners says Dr. Vail. “Organizing and documenting research. Validating the modules we’re writing from the student’s perspective. Alerting us to any confusing explanations. Designing custom software programs. They are part of the selection, writing, reading and assessment right along with us. They are integral to the development and teaching of this course.” Sam, Kaylie and Jerald have been impressed by the level of trust the professors have in them. “There’s not a lot of checking in,” Kaylie says. “They know we will get the information to them when they
During team meetings, six professors — each with a Ph.D. in his or her field — often speak separate languages. They have to take time to explain concepts, ideas and terminology to one another. “Seeing faculty members brave enough to ask questions is important for these students,” Dr. Vail says. “They need to see us step away from what we’ve done for so long and learn something new.” “There is a lot more debate among the professors than I expected,” Kaylie says. “They will debate the direction of a module, theme or format. They have a lot of very different opinions, which
need it. We know that we have to make our work for them a priority because they are depending on us to keep the development process moving along.”
Merging languages: science and computing One of the challenges the students face is completing research assignments while keeping up with their other studies and homework — but their strong interest in learning keeps them going. Sam enjoys the work he is doing with NetLogo, a multi-agent programmable modeling environment.
makes for very interesting team meetings!” “Watching the students watch this happen has been interesting,” Dr. Long says. “They already understand that these days, you can’t do biology without using computers. The better a scientist understands the software programs as tools, the better he or she will understand and do his or her job.”
Training better scientists Still in the experimental stage, this course is much more than a computer science course. With Dr. Vail as the instructor and a variety of science professors as guest lecturers, students will learn a lot of new information in a way that’s easy to grasp. “Each module is designed to ramp up from the previous ones,” Kaylie says. “Working through this will give science students a new appreciation for technology.” “This course is unique and different from other science courses offered at Olivet,” Jerald says. “It’s exciting to be part of it.” “As people think about educational requirements for a new century, there is a lot of talk about technological literacy,” Dr. Schroeder says. “We want to train better scientists at Olivet — teach them not just how to function with a computer, but to think about ways to use computing to analyze and solve problems. We want our students to have new ways of making a difference in God’s kingdom.”