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iCompetence: A Novel Comp uter Science Curriculum Sarah Hauser, MSc ETH CS, Lecturer / Head

iCompetence: A Novel Computer Science Curriculum

Sarah Hauser, MSc ETH CS, Lecturer / Head of iCompetence, University of Applied Sciences, Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW), School of Engineering,

Computer science and professional careers in information and communication technology (ICT) have been loosing attractiveness during the past decade. The number of students in computer science has been steadily dropping, in Switzerland as well as in many other countries. The same is observed for the number of apprentices in ICT. This trend stands in contrast to modern economy where a long-term and urgent demand for computer scientists exists. Currently, industry is not able to recruit even a small fraction of the computer science graduates needed. The gap between the decreasing interest in ICT and the increasing demand for such specialists appears even more alarming as computer science impacts on everything in our daily live. Computer science is an important source for development and innovation in science as well as in business.

Different explanations are brought up to address this situation. Reasons could be that the public do not really understand what computer science is about or a misunderstood perception of the job as a computer scientist. Jan van Leeuwen and Letizia Tanca show that a fundamental redefinition of computer science education and curricula is needed. They state in their report ‘Student Enrollment and Image of the Informatics Discipline’ that "only a combination of efforts will get us somewhere, and some of the needed measures may require a drastic change of vision in the entire definition of our curricula." Indeed, we may need a new perception of computer science as a discipline that attracts young people and enables them to develop their creativity for the benefit of the field.

Traditional education in computer science asks for students who are good at mathematics and structural programming. Their interest in emergent ICT fields, topics and skills is less important, however. That is where iCompetence pursues a different approach. iCompetence is a novel curriculum for a Bachelor’s degree course in computer science, developed at the School of Engineering of the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW).

To develop the iCompetence curriculum, we analyzed nowadays jobs and tasks of computer scientists as well as their required competences. In a nutshell, the curriculum approaches the domain of computer science as an international and trans-disciplinary field. It meshes computer science with design and management topics and students participate in international and interdisciplinary projects. For example, the COINS seminar where science, art and design meet is an inherent part of the iCompetence study. It brings together all the disciplines our students have to deal with. They learn in an intercultural, multidisciplinary environment and experience virtual communication. We are looking for students who are interested in innovative and creative, interdisciplinary computer science. Therefore we skip the traditional selection requirements but designed a learning environment allowing students to unleash their personal potential. We get them where they stand and we support them individually.

Results from the first two years of iCompetence indicate that computer science is a very attractive topic to study – for a diverse audience and also for women. Due to the new program iCompetence, the School of Engineering FHNW experiences a significant increase of enrolments in computer science and a significant increase of female students in the field of computer science.