Computer Science Department Statement on Scholarship

The exercise of generating discipline-based scholarship statements acknowledges that many disciplines have attributes that influence the kinds of scholarly activities appropriate to faculty who teach in those disciplines. The explosive rate at which technology advances, coupled with an economic system that rewards those who create products and services to take advantage of those advances, has an effect on computer science. Computer science itself is being reinvented and extended in response to these changes. While faculty in all disciplines have a need to "keep up with change" as a part of normal professional development, the magnitude of this change in computer science can consume most of one's time and energy.

Faculty in computer science do not regard this as a negative attribute of the discipline. Rather, we find it exciting. We are constantly confronted with apparent breakthroughs, and it is our responsibility to learn enough about them to assess whether the underlying ideas should be incorporated into our curricula. The vitality of computer science is central to our interest in it. Part of our job is to learn about new ideas, to filter the important from the fleeting, and to find ways to present both the ideas and the excitement to our students.

What forms of scholarship define the work of those in your department at their best?

Perhaps we can class the best of scholarship in computer science into three categories:

Traditional scholarship: There are areas of academic research that are stable enough that we can study them in much the same way one does mathematics or literature. Often this kind of work is what graduate students do, and can be extended into their professional lives as they enter the academy. It is difficult to continue for a long time while teaching at a college such as Luther, due to physical separation from the special resources that are often required. But it is possible, as it is in the sciences, for example. Typically, the depth of this kind of research is such that only small parts of it are accessible to undergraduate students. Still, some parts are, and obvious benefits accrue.

Course Development: We referred to new products and services that arise at a high rate in our area. Sometimes they can be incorporated into our computer science courses at Luther College. Sometimes they must be incorporated. The scholarship in this case is the research that is required to learn about the new ideas, to decide which are important enough for inclusion into the curriculum, and how to do that when it is appropriate. We create new ways to deliver new ideas.

Development of Expertise: A faculty member responsible for an area within the computer science curriculum may choose to maintain a level of expertise that goes beyond course development. The concept is to select topics that are at once interesting to the faculty member and accessible to students. This kind of work might be done with colleagues outside the computer science department, depending on the topics chosen. This kind of activity can involve students in seminars, in development of tools for on-campus clients, and in research projects.

What forms of peer review (beyond Luther's campus) are appropriate for that work?

We expect that a scholar will seek affirmation of the quality of the scholar's work. That affirmation can be achieved easily in the case of what we have called "traditional scholarship" above by means of the publication or presentation of the results of the work. It is understood that the work would need to be scrutinized by impartial experts, as is common.

Course development can sometimes be assessed in the same way. In computer science, there are publications and conferences that center on just this thing. It is common for faculty at universities and colleges to present the results of course-related scholarship. Papers are judged, and accepted or rejected, again by peers. Another way to judge this work is within the context of the department reviews that Luther will undergo. When off-campus colleagues visit a department and examine its work, they will naturally have a way to make judgments regarding the courses.

The "development of expertise" category is a bit more nebulous, as relates to peer review. In some cases, a paper will emerge, perhaps in a student-research setting. In cases where a product is created, one may judge the acceptance of the product either by a single client or by the numbers of people who choose to use it. Because the category is so broad it would be unwise to specify the devices used to evaluate it.

Specify depth and range of scholarly achievement at third year, tenure, promotion.

A faculty member who begins a teaching career at Luther College with a Ph. D. in computer science can be expected, by the time of the third year review, to have followed the doctoral research with one or more publications or presentations that continue the work of the thesis. This is important, though secondary to developing the courses (s)he will have to learn to teach. Any third-year faculty member who has done both of those things has met department expectations.

At the time of tenure, a faculty member will have moved into the teaching of a larger part of our curriculum. By that time (s)he will have made a scholarship commitment either to continue the traditional path that arises from the doctoral work, or will have engaged in one of the other scholarly paths indicated above. In the case of traditional scholarship, it is likely that additional papers or presentations will result from this continuing line of work to the extent that the faculty member shows their commitment to that area of the discipline. In the case of a new technical direction or a shift in focus, it is expected that there will be a plan in place to pursue some specific combination of discovery and application. In addition, it is hoped that some type of initial peer-reviewed product will begin to emerge, perhaps in the form of regional presentation or submittal for consideration. Certainly the amount of work that could be accomplished along this new direction would be less and that should therefore be carefully considered in balance with the curricular expectations.

The candidate for promotion to full professor can be expected to have achieved goals related to the plan in place at tenure, again with respect to the chosen direction as described above. (S)he would be expected to have produced work that has been peer-reviewed according to those goals. The criteria for that work is dependent on actions not all under the professor's control. As indicated in the preamble, changes in the discipline are presented to us in unpredictable ways and at unpredictable times. Because response to those changes is imperative, a faculty member may have to set planned goals aside while new courses are developed, or radical change takes place to current courses. One presumes that a candidate for promotion would have produced something of considerable substance, but we dare not be more definite from this distance.

What distinctive forms of scholarship can thrive at a liberal arts college of the church?

The kinds of scholarship we have mentioned here reflect Luther's place as an undergraduate liberal arts college. The connection with the church does not impact the kinds of scholarship that are expected in computer science.

The computer science department considers our discipline to be inherently applicative and therefore it is easy to imagine ways that interdisciplinary work, both student based and cross faculty, can be achieved. We have had some success in the past with small, student based projects, taking advantage of students from varying disciplines and see no reason that those types of projects could not continue. However, the success of those projects is often tempered by the willingness and ability of the computer science students to learn the fundamental aspects of an additional discipline while trying to balance their own work within the major and across the college.

(September 2002)