What We Do


The Liberal Arts Computer Science Consortium is an organization of 16 computer scientists from small quality liberal arts schools. Initially funded by a grant from the Sloan Foundation, the group's first major product was the 1986 paper, A Model Curriculum for a Liberal Arts Degree in Computer Science, by Norman Gibbs and Allen Tucker (Communications of the ACM, March 1986, pp. 202-210). Subsequent meetings and discussions have led to a range of papers and presentations, covering such topics as service courses, approaches to laboratories, experiments involving a breadth-first emphasis in the first courses, and goals for the first two years of undergraduate computer science.

While the Liberal Arts Model Curricula of 1986, 1996, and 2007 are LACS' most significant group achievements, members have also worked individually and in smaller groups to discuss, develop, test, and publish other work to help advance undergraduate computer science education. These initiatives typically fall into the following general categories:

  1. Enrollment and staffing data sharing. At each year's LACS meeting, members report on their own computer science enrollments, staffing and hiring data, along with any other events (new labs, etc.) that affect their programs. This data is helpful for planning, since its details are more relevant to liberal arts computer science programs than, say, the CRA Taulbee Survey.
  2. Course development. As members develop new approaches to specific computer science courses, the LACS meeting provides an informal working environment for discussing these approaches and their outcomes. This work often results in a publication in the annual ACM/SIGCSE proceedings or a regional CCSC conference proceedings. Here is a representative example: Adams, J., "Injecting Parallel Computing into CS2", 45th SIGCSE Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, Atlanta, GA, March 2014, pp. 277-282. DOI= 10.1145/2538862.2538883.
  3. Laboratory development. As members develop new laboratory exercises for specific courses, the LACS meeting provides a venue for sharing, discussing, and improving these exercises. Here are two representative examples: Adams, J., Hoogeboom, K., and Walz, J., "A Cluster for CS Education in the Manycore Era", 42nd SIGCSE Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, March 2010, pp. 27-32. DOI=10.1145/1953163.1953177. Walker, H, "A lab-based approach for introductory computing that emphasizes collaboration", CSERC '11 Computer Science Education Research Conference, Heerlen, The Netherlands, pp 21-31
  4. The role of mathematics. The Model Curriculum pays particular attention to the importance, nature, and role of mathematics in an undergraduate computer science program. LACS members have separately examined these issues, both in our summer meetings and in related publications. Here are two representative examples: Bruce, K., Drysdale, R., Kelemen, C., and Tucker, A., "Why CS Students Need Math" Communications of the ACM (46,9) September, 2003, pp 40-44 Baldwin, D., Walker, H., and Henderson, P. "The Roles of Mathematics in Computer Science," ACM Inroads (4,4) December, 2013, pp 74 - 80
  5. Program Reviews and Consulting. While LACS itself is not in any way an accrediting agency or a consulting firm, liberal arts college deans and provosts have turned to LACS members over the years to participate in external reviews of their computer science programs. LACS members are also regularly asked by Deans to serve as outside reviewers of computer science candidates for promotion and tenure.

To facilitate our work in these areas, each summer meeting begins with a "Show and Tell" session where members briefly summarize their own institutions' enrollment and staffing data. The rest of the agenda is set by members volunteering to chair a session on a specific topic or issue in one of the above areas. Other members may join that session, and that session is thus assigned an appropriate time slot in the meeting.

So by the end of the 1-1/2 day summer meeting, a lot of work is accomplished and members often leave with new goals to accomplish during the upcoming year. Because of the strong working and personal relationships that exist among LACS members, these meetings are particularly productive and often engender new collective insights into the entire undergraduate computer science experience.