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South Carolina Takes Ambitious Leap

About six months ago, a group of department chairs, university and technical college faculty, teachers, and parents in South Carolina came together with the goal of bringing back the enrollments in undergraduate programs in computing. Now with the support of the South Carolina Superintendent of Education, Dr. Jim Rex, they are moving ahead on an ambitious plan to revamp high school computer science in South Carolina. Duncan Buell, Chair of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of South Carolina gave me the following update on the Computing Competitiveness Council's plan.

Our committee's goal is to improve students' future employment opportunities and South Carolina's share of the knowledge economy. Over the last few months we have developed an analysis of why computing education may be the way it is and a plan for changing the situation for the better.

One of the problems we see is that although there are departments of math, science, and business, there is no "department of computing" in the high schools, and thus there is no focus and no champion of computing per se. Over the long term we hope to change that situation, even if only to create virtual departments of computing comprising faculty from other departments. We feel we have made a major step forward in this direction in that the major guidance brochure for the STEM disciplines now features computer science prominently along with mathematics, science, and pre-engineering.

We have also, at least in the Columbia area where USC is located, identified a school district willing to work with us on curricular issues and program development. In South Carolina, high school students choose a major. Last week the district and I worked out a major in computer science that will be advertised as one of the STEM disciplines. At USC, we are also developing a variation of the ACM/CSTA Level II course that will be suitable for distance delivery and satisfy a state computer science requirement that all too often has turned into a computer literacy requirement.

We also intend to create a distance delivery version of the course and thus to mitigate problems with rural schools and the difficulties faced by school districts in justifying the staffing of computing classes with teachers. The other university participants in the CCC are currently searching for suitable districts in their regions of the state.

Finally, we will be planning teacher preparation courses for summer 2008 both in the new Level II course and in Advanced Placement Computer Science, whose enrollment has shrunk in South Carolina to less than ten percent of that of AP Calculus. As our plans develop, we will be asking the state for support for teachers to induce them to make the effort to prepare for teaching these classes.

Overall, our goal is to coordinate the presentation to students and parents of the message about computing as a discipline and computing as a career and to provide schools with the documentation, support, and teacher preparation necessary to deliver that message. It's a tall order, but if we do not participate, then we can't very well complain about what message does get sent.

Duncan Buell

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