Project Description

Project Overview

The goal of this project is to enhance the 4-year undergraduate Computer Science (CS) curriculum offered at the University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras (UPR-RP) with Parallel and Computational Thinking (PCT). We define PCT as a set of competencies and mental tools that allow its practitioners to envision solutions to complex problems in terms of concurrent, coordinated, and collaborative computational processes. The seven members of our faculty will undergo development in Computational Thinking (CT) and parallel concepts. This will empower us to redesign CS core courses by infusing PCT concepts. We will develop assessment tools that will be used for measuring student aptitudes and attitudes toward PCT. A parallel computation platform will be implemented locally and access to remote supercomputing centers will be established. This hardware support will provide the practical setting for the newly-designed PCT class experiences. Seminars on topics using CT and PCT will be sponsored and open to the general K-20 community. This project represents the first building block for the successful integration of CT into our undergraduate curriculum. Hence it provides a foundation for further growth toward a CT-centric and interdisciplinary Computer Science program.

The ability to work with complex systems using parallel computation is an important and marketable skill. Moreover, the ability to design effective solutions by means of parallel processing should be a required competency for every computer science undergraduate. However, teaching parallel concepts to undergraduate students is challenging. Therefore, we propose to integrate PCT throughout our curriculum by exposing students to PCT principles in most core courses. The ongoing exposure throughout the 4 years of study is expected to result in CS graduates who have assimilated PCT as a natural process and who can use this as a versatile and powerful tool for solving challenging problems. The decision to focus on PCT is the result of a thorough self-evaluation of the department, and creates the opportunity to embrace CT as a part of the conceptual framework for our courses.

Project Objectives

  • To redesign the undergraduate Computer Science program at the University of Puerto Rico Rio Piedras to be permeated with PCT
  • To provide faculty development in PCT
  • To make accessible parallel platforms to support course experiences in parallel computing.
  • To share the result of our project and disseminate this model for use by others.

Computational Model

Since “parallel computation” may have different meaning depending on the reader, we feel obligated to provide some clarification. In the description of the project we use the adjective parallel in conjunction with terms such as thinking, problems, and solutions. This is done to signify the broad concept of computational models where multiple processing elements are used in a computation to solve a common problem. Our use of the term does not restrict or imply any assumptions regarding architecture, methodology, performance level, or programming notation.

About the CPATH Program

CPATH is an acronym for CISE Pathways to Revitalized Undergraduate Computing Education. This is a competitive award offered through NSF. Quoting (from the NSF program page):

Through the CPATH program, CISE challenges the academic community to identify and define the core computing concepts, methods, technologies and tools to be integrated into promising new undergraduate education models, and to demonstrate effective strategies to develop and assess CT competencies in the relevant learning communities. While aimed primarily at revitalizing undergraduate education, CISE encourages the exploration of new models that extend from institutions of higher education into the K-12 environment; activities that engage K-12 teachers and students to facilitate the seamless transition of secondary students into CT-focused undergraduate programs are particularly encouraged.

Following is a quote (from the NSF program page) regarding the specific goal of propagating computational thinking paradigm.

Computing has permeated and transformed almost all aspects of modern life. As computing becomes more important in all sectors of society, so does the preparation of a globally competitive U.S. workforce able toapply core computing concepts, methods, technologies, and tools - referred to here as Computational Thinking (CT) – to a broad range of societal challenges and opportunities.

CT capitalizes on concepts, methods, technologies, and tools fundamental to the fields of computing, i.e. computer and information science and engineering. For example, computing concepts and methods equip us to reason at multiple levels of abstraction simultaneously, to think algorithmically and apply foundational mathematical concepts to solve complex problems, and to understand the dimensions and consequences of scale. However, it is only when computing concepts and methods are combined with the power of automation afforded by contemporary computing technologies and tools that the full potential of CT is unleashed. Drawing deeply on computational concepts, methods, technologies and tools, CT serves as a powerful strategy to more effectively design, understand and solve problems associated with complex systems in many aspects of modern life.

The CISE Pathways to Revitalized Undergraduate Education in Computing (CPATH) program recognizes the growing importance of CT in society. The goals of the program are to:

  • contribute to the development of a globally competitive U.S. workforce with CT competencies essential to U.S. leadership in the global innovation enterprise;
  • increase the number of students developing CT competencies by infusing CT learning opportunities into undergraduate education in the core computing fields – computer and information science and engineering, and in other fields of study; and,
  • demonstrate transformative CT-focused undergraduate education models that are replicable across a variety of institutions.