Experiences with Writing Assignments in Upper-Division Computer Science Courses
When I arrived at Butler University in the Fall of 1991, I discovered the writing-across-the-curriculum program (WAC), directed by Dr. Carol Reeves. At Butler, all students must take a writing-intensive course during their junior or senior year. Preferably that course should be in the student's major. At Butler, WAC's primary duty is to approve courses as writing-intensive and to train faculty to competently offer such courses. As an eager new faculty member, I dutifully signed up for the training, despite my fears about using writing in computer science courses. I had never taught a course that involved writing, and I did not know how to grade writing assignments. I was not certain that writing could or should be used in upper-division computer science courses as it is in upper-divi-sion humanities courses. Perhaps fellow computer scientists feel the same way.
After several years of teaching writing-intensive courses and some trial and error, I have discovered that writing can be incorporated into many upper-division computer science courses in a way that is natural and makes sense. In particular, I have taught operating systems, database systems, algorithms, and theory of computation successfully as writing-intensive courses. I believe that these courses are better as a result. In this article, I will share some of my experience in this area in the hope that others may find some of what I say to be helpful.
If you teach computer science or something similar, but have little or no experience in using writing in your courses, then I would like you to