The curriculum should inspire students
to view CS as both accomplishment and
BY cLaYton Le Wis, micheLe h. JacKson,
anD WiLLiam m. Waite
Wha T s TUdeNTs ThiNK about a discipline—its structure,
usefulness, how it is learned—plays an important
role in shaping how they approach it. Just as faculty
members aim to have their students learn the facts
and skills of a discipline, they may also want to
shape student beliefs and attitudes. here, we report
the attitudes of undergraduate computer science
students early and late in the curriculum, comparing
them with faculty attitudes in the same department.
The results reflect the places where students think
what faculty want them to think, where
they do not think that way, and whether there is evidence that final-year students agree more or less with faculty
than students in introductory courses.
Together with earlier research, the results provide insight into sometimes
surprising attitudes, and can help
guide curricular improvement.
In physics education, research1, 13
into key attitudes and beliefs about
physics as a discipline and how they
change suggests that courses sometimes shift student attitudes away
from the attitudes endorsed by faculty.
In particular, students may move toward the view that physics is mainly
about memorizing and evaluating formulae, rather than about a conceptual
understanding of the natural world.
CS faculty are also likewise concerned with student attitudes: “CS is
just programming;” 17 “As long as a
program works it doesn’t matter how
it is written;” and “Theoretical CS is
not relevant to the real world.” Do students hold such views? As they move
through the curriculum, do their beliefs come to resemble those of faculty
Our study collected and analyzed
data on these points. Specifically, we
collected responses to 32 questions
about attitudes and beliefs from beginning and advanced CS undergraduates and from faculty at the University
of Colorado at Boulder. The results
revealed some areas in which student
responses clearly agree with faculty
and others where they disagree. Comparing the responses of beginning
the attitudes of beginning cs students
are more varied than final-year students,
suggesting the curriculum plays an
important role in shaping them.
final-year cs students generally show
little appreciation for skills involving
creativity and reasoning, emphasizing
instead cs as outcomes.
understanding how student attitudes are
formed and strengthened helps faculty
develop more effective cs curricula.