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, Wednesday, Friday 10:30am - 11:50am
Baker Hall 237B

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

Course Description:

“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,]

"(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, understanding of computer science and participation in the field. We will reflect on some issues often taken for granted e.g. are our attitudes to computing culturally specific? 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 students develop and implement an outreach project aimed at re-presenting the exciting field of computer science with broad appeal in mind.


Students will be graded on the quality of their performance in one short paper, one research paper, an outreach project and one in-class quiz. The 3 assignments and quiz will constitute 80% of the final grade.

Class attendance, presentations and participation are critical to doing well in this course and will count for 20% of the final grade.


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 1: Images of the Field (USA): Participation, Biases, 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

    Assignment 1. Presentation Deadline: March 28th, Paper Deadline: April 1st


Part 2: 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?

Assignment 2. Research Paper: Cultural Research Paper Deadline May 4th

Guidelines for Papers


Part 3. Outreach and Broadening Images of Computing

"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]

Assignment 3. Outreach: This assignment involves a Project Presentation

Deadline: Outreach Project by Friday, April 29th

  • Presenting New Images of the Field and the People in it
  • Teamwork vs groupwork
  • Discussion of Outreach Project.
  • Present to the class
    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?
    • What is your focus?
    • How will you measure impact?

**ACADEMIC INTEGRITY: Important Must Read**

Guidelines for Readings, Presentations and Discussion

Guidelines for Papers

Presentations: 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