Thanks to a collaboration with Google, Sweet Briar College is offering a new set of computer and data science courses in 2018-2019. Sweet Briar is one of eight colleges and universities collaborating with Google on these pilot courses this academic year. The goal: to increase undergraduate access to quality computer and data science education by leveraging new technologies and teaching techniques.
The Applied Computing Series teaches the foundations of computer and data science through hands-on, project-based coursework, topically designed to attract students who might not consider a technology career. The courses leverage the tools and techniques used at Google and in the wider tech industry, while also teaching skills associated with a liberal arts education: critical thinking and problem-solving, collaboration, and the ability to communicate and network.
Students will learn the fundamentals of computer and data science while gaining real-world experience in applying and practicing those concepts through creative work. The content for the classes is distributed via a “flipped classroom” model of instruction: Students review, study and practice material outside of the classroom before returning to class to work on collaborative projects coached by Sweet Briar faculty, who help bring learned concepts to life.
To develop the most robust curriculum, Google is building these courses in partnership with highly-regarded computer science academics. The Google instructional team builds the centralized content and in-class projects; the courses are then delivered by Sweet Briar faculty in STEM fields.
Students participating in the program will:
- Gain exposure to computer and data science and develop skills that can be applied to their own majors;
- Work with Google employees to learn about the tech industry’s working environments, challenges and nuances;
- Immerse themselves in a project-based curriculum to help reinforce the computer and data science principles they’re learning.
The first course, Foundations of Python Programming, was offered as a traditional course on campus in fall 2018; the second course, How to Think Like a Data Scientist, is being offered in spring 2019. Both courses are taught by Sweet Briar College faculty with guidance from the Google Engineering Education team.
Applied Computing 101: Foundations of Python Programming
This introduction to computer science, developed by Google and their university partners, emphasizes problem solving and data analysis skills along with computer programming skills. Using Python, students learn design, implementation, testing, and analysis of algorithms and programs. And within the context of programming, they will learn to formulate problems, think creatively about solutions, and express those solutions clearly and accurately. Problems will be chosen from real-world examples such as graphics, image processing, cryptography, data analysis, astronomy, video games, and environmental simulation. Students get instruction from a world-class computer science professor, delivered remotely through video and interactive media and attend class for collaborative team projects to solve real-life problems, similar to those a team at Google might face. As part of the course, students also hear from Google engineers about their careers in the tech industry and learn how they can prepare for similar careers. Prior programming experience is not a requirement for this course.
Applied Computing 201: How to Think Like a Data Scientist
How to Think Like a Data Scientist introduces students to the importance of gathering, cleaning, normalizing, visualizing and analyzing data to drive informed decision-making, no matter the field of study. Students will learn to use a combination of tools and techniques, including spreadsheets, SQL and Python to work on real-world datasets using a combination of procedural and basic machine learning algorithms. They will also learn to ask good, exploratory questions and develop metrics to come up with a well thought-out analysis. Presenting and discussing an analysis of datasets chosen by the students will be an important part of the course. Like AC101, this course will be “flipped,” with content learned outside of class and classroom time focused on hands-on, collaborative projects.
Why is Sweet Briar College partnering with Google on these new courses?
Sweet Briar College and Google are developing these courses to rethink the way traditional computer science is taught. The focus of the courses goes beyond teaching students how to code; they also teach data processing and statistical techniques and combine these skills in hands-on, collaborative projects meant to solve real-life problems similar to those solved at Google and in other industries beyond tech.
How will these courses work?
The courses implement a flipped-classroom style of teaching to support varied learning styles and maximize hands-on learning. Students will have the opportunity to apply the skills and concepts they’ve learned via in-class collaborative projects to solve real-world problems similar to those a team at Google might face. Students with interest in pursuing tech roles will have the added opportunity to connect and network with Google employees to learn about working environments, challenges and nuances in working in the industry.
Why was our school chosen for this project?
The schools involved in this pilot program were chosen because they have a successful track record of implementing new programs with innovative teaching and learning methods. Google and the schools involved are also interested in investigating new, economically efficient approaches to reaching more students.
Who are the other schools participating in the pilot?
Adrian College (Adrian, MI); Agnes Scott College (Atlanta, GA); Bay Path University (Longmeadow, MA); Heidelberg University (Tiffin, OH); Holy Names University (Oakland, CA); Lasell College (Newton, MA); Scripps College (Claremont, CA); SUNY Buffalo State (Buffalo, NY); Sweet Briar College (Sweet Briar, VA)
Will Google and Sweet Briar College be offering more classes in the future?
We are currently focused on the course pilots launching over the next year. The progress we make with the pilots and their results will inform the next steps, though Google will eventually make these courses available to any school interested in adopting the curriculum.