Carnegie Mellon
School of Computer Science

Dr. Carol Frieze

Office: Gates 4111
Phone: 412-268-9071

email: cfrieze @

Images of Computing

When and Where:

Undergraduate Course 15-296
Monday and Wednesday, Friday 10:30am - 11:50am
Gates 4102

Instructor: Dr. Carol Frieze
Units: 5 (mini)

Course Description:

“While there are likely many factors that contribute to the low interest in computer science, we believe that misperceptions and negative images play a significant role. Image is important. As long as teenagers believe that computer science is boring, difficult, antisocial, or doesn’t have much impact on solving the world’s problems, they’re unlikely to choose it for their future.”
       [WGBH Market Research Report,]

“There is no doubt that there is a tremendous demand for students with computing skills. Indeed, vast shortfalls in information technology workers in the coming decade have been predicted."
                           [Computer Science Curricula 2013, p.3]

"(T)here is a pressing need to broaden participation in the study of computer science and attract the full range of talent to the field, regardless of ethnicity, gender, or economic status. Institutions should make efforts to bring a wide range of students into the computer science pipeline and provide support structures to help all students successfully complete their programs.”
                          [Computer Science Curricula 2013, p.47]

In this research and action based course we will explore computing from a cultural perspective and look in particular at the images of computing. We will examine how the field is represented in the popular culture of the USA and how such representations might affect public attitudes, access to resources and understanding of computer science. We will reflect on some issues often taken for granted e.g. are our attitudes to computing culturally specific? Is computing and its workforce perceived and represented differently in cultures from around the world? Do computer scientists have a role to play in shaping perceptions of computing?

This course is aimed primarily at students who are interested in exploring some of the broad issues of computer science and who would like to direct their interests towards creative outreach activities, thus also gaining experience in teamwork, teaching and presenting. We will use academic papers, web sites, group discussion/debate and popular media. Findings from our investigations will inspire the action component in which student teams develop and implement a public outreach presentation aimed at re-presenting the exciting field of computer science with broad appeal in mind.


Students will be graded primarily on the quality of their performance in one paper, an outreach assignment and a final paper. The assignments will constitute 85% of the final grade with grades assigned 25%, 30%, and 30%, to each assignment respectively.

Class attendance, presentations and participation are critical to doing well in this course and will count for 15% of the final grade.


Part 1. Introduction and Overview: Culture, Images and Meaning

    • What are the issues?
    • What do we mean by Culture?
    • Why are Images important?
    • What do we mean by Computing and/or Computer Science?
    • Culture, Images and Meaning, ..... What has this to do with Computing?

Team Presentations


Part 2: Images of the Field (USA): Participation, Myths, Stereotypes and Challenges

  • Why “Images”? Why might we need to broaden images of Computing?
  • Participation in Computer Science: Data from the USA
  • Broadening Participation in Computer Science: Why does this Matter?
  • Myths and Stereotypes Team Presentations

    Research Assignment 1.
    Paper Presentations: March 30th
    Research Assignment Paper Deadline: April 3rd


Part 3: Outreach and Broadening Understanding of Computer Science

"Computer science is nothing less than a new way of thinking; explaining it to the wider world is critical to the future of the field." [S. Arora, B. Chazelle, Communications ACM 48 (2005), 31-33]

Outreach Assignment 2.
This assignment involves a Team Presentation plus Individual Report
Part 1. Last Outreach by May 1st, Part 2. Reports by May 4th

  • Presenting New Images of the Field and the People in it
  • Final Outreach Projects: Public Presentations (in Teams) and Related Paper (Individual)
  • Teamwork vs groupwork
  • Discussion of Outreach Project.
    Factors to consider:
    • What are your aims?
    • Who is your target audience? e.g. elementary students, middle school, high school, college level students, parents, teachers, people with disabilities?
    • How long should the presentation be?
    • How will you measure impact?
    • What will you include in your paper?

Part 4. A Global Perspective on Computing

  • Case studies from other countries and cultures. Team Presentations
  • Are there different levels of participation in computing and computer science in other countries?
  • Why might this be?
  • Is computing perceived differently in different countries and cultures?

Final Paper:  Assignment 3. Deadline May 8th



Guidelines for Readings, Presentations and Discussion

Be prepared to discuss/present:

-- a brief summary of the paper
-- the main argument/points made by the author
-- the evidence given to support the argument
-- any key words/phrases
-- what questions are raised?
-- what did you learn?
-- what did you find particularly interesting?
-- do you agree/disgree with the argument made by the author?
-- in what way(s) does the paper relate to this class?
-- any other points ....

Carol Frieze: Home Page