Stanford Computer Science launches new Masters of Education

04/18/2016 03:10 pm ET Updated Apr 17, 2017

For Ph.D.s in an academic discipline other than computer science.

For years humanities and social science Ph.D.s have faced a dismal academic job market. As the number of tenure-track positions in these fields dwindle, many dedicated teachers and research have begun to search outside of academia for employment opportunities. Industry and institutions have beckoned these alt-ac Ph.D.s for a while.

Enter Stanford Computer Science with another option for Ph.D.s, who prefer to stay in education and pursue a teaching career: A year-long Masters of Computer Science Education that prepares recipients of doctoral degrees from diverse fields with excellent teaching records to teach beginning programming courses for students in higher education and beyond. Programming instructors are in high demand: With this new degree, humanities and social science PhDs would find ample employment opportunities to teach programming, and they would be able to bring their understanding of academic values and student learning needs, acquired during their own doctoral study, into the programming classroom.

Professor Eric Roberts of Stanford's Department of Computer Science agreed to answer some questions about this program:

Tell us about this new program:

With all the opportunities it offers across a broad range of disciplines, Computer Science is growing rapidly in popularity among undergraduates. Despite the skyrocketing number of students, most universities and colleges are finding it difficult to find faculty qualified to teach computer science courses, particularly at the introductory and intermediate level. Most graduates of Computer Science doctoral programs take positions in industry, with very few staying in academia to teach future generations of students. Last year, the number of open faculty positions exceeded the number of Ph.D. graduates seeking academic employment by a factor of four. This year, the shortfall will be even more severe.

When the United States faced a similar shortage of Computer Science faculty in the 1980s, the most successful strategy to fill the gap was retraining faculty who had been trained in other disciplines. Stanford's new Master's degree in Computer Science Education aims to identify talented teachers and give them the background they need to teach undergraduate computer science courses. The goal of this one-year, full-time, residential program is to prepare those individuals for the Computer Science teaching positions that colleges and universities have been unable to fill.

What sort of candidates are you looking for?

The retraining programs of the 1980s focused on retraining existing faculty from fields that were thought to be most similar to Computer Science, primarily Mathematics and Physics. Our vision is more expansive. Computing is now integral to almost all academic disciplines, and it is important for computer science education to reflect that breadth. We are therefore looking for the best teachers, regardless of field. We believe that the graduates of our program will be prepared not only to teach the core courses in an undergraduate curriculum but also to develop new courses that show how computational thinking can be applied to their own areas of expertise.

For more than a decade, I taught first-year courses in Stanford's first-year Introduction to the Humanities and Thinking Matters programs. Each year, we hired postdoctoral fellows to lead the discussion sections. Most of those applicants were incredibly talented, with substantial teaching experience and strong student evaluations. Even so, most of them had been unable to find tenure-track positions in their own disciplines. I'm looking for candidates like that for this program. It is much easier to turn a great teacher from the humanities and social sciences into an effective Computer Science teacher than it is to do the same with a weak teacher from Computer Science.

What can these prospective students expect to learn?

The required courses for the Master's degree in Computer Science Education are designed to give students the following knowledge and skills:
• A solid undergraduate foundation in programming techniques
• The mathematical foundation to appreciate the connection between theory and practice
• Experience implementing medium scale software projects
• An appreciation of the great intellectual ideas in computer science
• Additional breadth in Computer Science and its applications
• Experience teaching Computer Science in Stanford's introductory course sequence

Individual programs will be tailored to match each student's background and experience.

Since this program is specifically NOT aimed at preparing CS teachers to go into industry, can you describe the kinds of teaching these students will do when they graduate?

The students we're seeking are precisely the ones who are most committed to the academic mission--the ones who thrive on creating new knowledge and getting students to share in the excitement of that process. I firmly believe that--just as was true in the 1980s--the graduates of the Master's Program in Computer Science Education will be able to apply for and secure tenure-track faculty positions in colleges as well as the growing number of teaching-line positions in research universities.

To apply to this program click here