Liberal Arts CS Major Recommendations

The paper A Revised Model Curriculum for a Liberal Arts Degree in Computer Science by Henry Walker and G. Michael Schneider (Communications of the ACM 39, 12 (Dec 1996), 85-95) provides recommendations for Computer Science Major programs at liberal arts colleges. This “Revised Model Curriculum” draws on Computing Curricula 1991, then the most recent joint curricular recommendations of the CS professional societies. The Revised Model Curriculum expresses its recommended requirements in terms of courses and levels. It calls for twelve courses, including three mathematics courses, plus a capstone experience. The following list is adapted from Table 2 of the paper, with annotations of the form  ”– CS1“  indicating the St. Olaf CS courses that intersect with the material listed for a particular Revised Model Curriculum course in the list.

Level 1. Introductory level
  • CS1: Computer Science I – CS1
  • MA1: Discrete Mathematics – MFC
Level 2. Intermediate level
  • CS2: Computer Science II – SD
  • CS3: Computer Organization and Architecture – HD
  • Integral Mathematics component: Two courses selected by the student and advisor to support core courses and electives –1-course calculus-level prerequisite for MFC
Level 3. Core level
  • CO1: Sequential and Parallel Algorithms – OSCSA
  • CO2: Foundations of Computing – TC
  • CO3: Programming Languages and Systems – PL
Level 4. Computer Science electives and project
  • Three Computer Science elective courses building on the core – (St. Olaf’s major calls for two electives, but four “core courses”)
  • An independent research or development project with library, written and oral components – CAP

Comments and observations

  • The Revised Model Curriculum has strongly influenced the St. Olaf CS major, including the organization into levels (introductory/intermediate, “core”, advanced). Less obvious influences may be found by comparing the paper itself to the St. Olaf major. For example, theoretical topics such as program verification (proofs of correctness) appear beginning with St. Olaf’s introductory course CS1, reflecting the Revised Model Curriculum’s integration of theory as a recurring theme.
  • Both the Revised Model Curriculum and St. Olaf’s major call for inclusion of ethical and social issues at many levels. However, St. Olaf’s major includes substantially greater emphasis in the form of an additional core course devoted to the topic, ESD (Ethical and Social Issues in Computing), plus a senior-level ethical impact analysis of a project.
  • St. Olaf’s major calls for a course in Mathematical Foundations of Computing MFC with a prerequisite of mathematical maturity at the level of Calculus I. Although this represents one course fewer in mathematics than the three recommended by the Revised Model Curriculum, this difference is partially offset by the mathematical content in St. Olaf’s approach to the introductory course CS1, which satisfies the [MAR] graduation requirement.
  • At 10-11 St. Olaf credits plus Calculus (or comparable mathematical achievement, for for MFC), St. Olaf’s major calls for approximately the same number of courses as the 12 recommended by the Revised Model Curriculum.