Archive for June 2011

How CS Majors Select a Specialization

One of the more interesting things that I came across in my interviews is the way CS majors decide on aspects of CS to specialize in. At Georgia Tech, students choose two of eight CS “Threads” and that choice determines about two thirds of their CS coursework. I like the idea of a flexible curriculum that lets students purse their CS interests. But, based on my conversations with students, I’m pretty concerned that many students are selecting their specializations without really understanding the trade-offs of their decisions.

I’ll be presenting a paper about this at ICER 2011. The abstract says:

As CS becomes a larger field, many undergraduate programs are giving students greater freedom in the classes that make up their degree. This study looks at the process by which students within the CS major choose to specialize in some area. In this study we interviewed student advisors, graduated CS students, and students currently in the undergraduate process about their view of CS and how they make decisions. The interviews were analyzed with grounded theory approach. The analysis presents four forces that affect student decision making. One, students often use the amount they enjoy individual classes as a sign of how well they fit with a particular specialization. Two, students often do not research, so they select specializations based on misconceptions. Three, students often rely on the curriculum to protect against poor educational choices. Four, students usually do not have a personal vision for what they hope to do with a Computer Science degree.

You can read my version of the paper here.