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, 10:30am - 11:50am
Room: GHC 5222

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 two research papers and an outreach project. The 3 assignments will constitute 75% of the final grade.

Class attendance, presentations and participation are critical to doing well in this course and will count for 25% of the final grade.

Preliminary Syllabus

Introduction and Overview: Culture, Images and Meaning

    • What are the issues?
    • Participation in Computer Science: Data from the USA
    • 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?
    • Teamwork

Team Presentations
Guidelines for Discussion


Part 1: Images of the Field (USA): Stereotypes, Bias, and Challenges for CS

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

    Assignment 1. Presentation Deadline: Mon. April 3rd; Paper Deadline: Mon. April 10th


Part 2: 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 2. Outreach:
Outreach Project and Presentation Deadline: April 24th
Report Deadline: April 28th

  • Presenting New Images of the Field and the People in it
  • 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

Part 3. 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 3. Cultural Research Paper Deadline: Wed. May 10th

Guidelines for Papers


**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 ....


Take care of yourself

Do your best to maintain a healthy lifestyle this semester by eating well, exercising, avoiding drugs and alcohol, getting enough sleep and taking some time to relax. This will help you achieve your goals and cope with stress.

All of us benefit from support during times of struggle. You are not alone. There are many helpful resources available on campus and an important part of the college experience is learning how to ask for help. Asking for support sooner rather than later is often helpful.

If you or anyone you know experiences any academic stress, difficult life events, or feelings like anxiety or depression, we strongly encourage you to seek support. Counseling and Psychological Services (CaPS) is here to help: call 412-268-2922 and visit their website at Consider reaching out to a friend, faculty or family member you trust for help getting connected to the support that can help.

Carol Frieze: Home Page