The Department of Computer Science is committed to equipping its graduates to pursue vocations in computing1, and we believe that these vocations require fluency in written, oral and visual rhetoric. This document presents the forms of rhetoric commonly deployed in the computing field, the department program for helping its students develop fluency in these forms of rhetoric, and the assessment instruments we will use to evaluate the effectiveness of this program.

Rhetoric in Computing

Computing requires fluency in the following forms of communication:

These forms of communication also require research fluency in computing, which includes a knowledge of the technical computing literature and an ability to find and use technical reference documentation.

Rhetoric in the Major Curriculum

The major programs in the Department of Computer Science guide students toward proficiency in the four forms of rhetoric given in the previous section. All the programs share four courses that will serve as the focus points for our writing program:

These courses play central roles in the departmental rhetoric program as shown in the following table. The table also shows the “key” assignments through which the department will assess its writing program.

External
Documentation
Expository
Writing
Programs &
Internal Doc.
Technical
Presentation
Advanced CS 394 or 396/8
(documentation)
CS 384
(final research paper)
CS 394 or 396/8
(system)
CS 394 or 396/8
(final presentation)
Intermediate CS 262
(documentation)
  CS 262
(system)
CS 262
(final team presentation)
Introductory     CS 108
(final project)
 

At the introductory level, students must be able to demonstrate developing competence in programming/internal documentation (see the chart above). CS 108 introduces them to these rhetorical activities through the following key assignment:

This CS 108 assignment is graded by the instructor and the grader according to the department grading rubric2. The preparatory assignments are also graded in a similar manner, with feedback given both in writing and orally in class.

At the intermediate level, students must be able to demonstrate proficiency in external documentation, programming/internal documentation and presentation for a complete software system. CS 262 introduces them to these activities through a team project that includes the following key assignments:

All of these CS 262 team assignments are graded by the instructor and the grader according to the department rubric2. The relative contributions made by individual team members is assessed based in part on semester-end comments provided by fellow team members.

At the advanced level, students must be able to demonstrate proficiency in all rhetorical forms. The key assignments at this level are as follows:

These assignments are graded by the appropriate instructor according to the rubric2.

Rhetoric in the Core Curriculum

The department relies on the core curriculum to help its students develop proficiency in oral and visual rhetoric4. This program focuses more on computing-specific rhetoric.

The department currently participates in one category of the core curriculum: Foundations of Information Technology (IDIS 110 & CS 108). This course includes rhetorical components, but it is not currently part of the department's rhetoric program.

Faculty Awareness and Development

Current faculty members will discuss the department rhetoric program as part of the process of creating the annual state of the department report. New faculty members encounter the program when they participate in these discussions. In addition, new faculty see the key assignments and rubrics included in the course materials they typically inherit when they start at Calvin. This specification is made available on the department website.

Assessment

The list of outcomes for the department's assessment plan5 includes a requirement that graduates have “the ability to communicate effectively through speaking and writing”. To evaluate how well we are doing with respect to this outcome, the department curriculum committee will review the previous semester's student work on the key assignments listed in the table above with respect to the department grading rubric2.

The curriculum committee will report the results of its review to the department along with any recommended modifications to the writing program itself. The department chair will include a discussion of the review in the state of the department report.

The Department of Computer Science has a degree program accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). As part of its ABET accreditation cycle, the department will collect representative examples of all assignments in all classes throughout the program once every six years. The ABET visitation team will review them as they see fit.

Next Steps

Steps to consider in the future are, in order of decreasing importance:

  1. Add the creation and maintenance of student portfolios to the department advising program. Include the key assignments described above as part of these portfolios.
  2. Add more details on how research fluency for computing will be developed and assessed. This should include consideration of the creation and use of reference materials, and the use of the standard computing literature.
  3. Do a better job disseminating this specification to faculty, particularly new faculty (e.g., by producing on-line sets of information for new faculty).
  4. Integrate the department's core courses into this writing program.

End Notes

1 See our mission statement at http://cs.calvin.edu/p/mission.
2 See our department grading rubric at http://cs.calvin.edu/administrative/assessment/grading/.
3 Our partners council is described here: http://cs.calvin.edu/documents/council.
4 See the “Rhetoric in Culture” core category at http://www.calvin.edu/academic/services/advising/core/general.html. Note that BCS majors are required to take oral rhetoric rather than visual rhetoric for this core category.
5 See our assessment plan at http://cs.calvin.edu/administrative/assessment/plan/.