Chair’s Message: September 2020
We are delighted to welcome our students back for another academic year in the Tufts Department of Computer Science. Of course, with the increased focus on the Black Lives Matter movement and with the challenges of COVID-19, this year looks strikingly different from last year!
Our strong sense of community has long been a hallmark of Tufts Computer Science. In that sense, this year will be no different, even though most department classes and activities will be online. With the help of a team of Code for Good students and a commercial vendor, the department has created “Virtual Halligan.” This online space provides a map-based metaphor where all faculty and staff have offices and graduate students have places to work; all student groups have lounges where they can meet up; all classes have hangout spaces where they can find other students working on assignments and where they can meet one-on-one with teaching assistants. We have also expanded how we communicate to better reach our students. Our social media options now include Instagram, along with Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Raftr.
To help students on campus work safely in physical Halligan, the facilities staff have hung reduced room capacity signs and marked where seating preserves the requisite six feet of separation. In addition, we have distributed hand sanitizer, masks, and disinfecting supplies throughout the building. For a complete review and update on all the changes at Tufts due to COVID-19, please click here.
To address the challenges of online instruction, the faculty have leveraged the expertise we gained in launching an online Master’s in Computer Science. We accelerated the development of several of the professionally developed courses for that program so we could start offering them this fall. Many faculty members have spent quite a bit of time this summer in the recording studio getting their lectures ready for the fall term, myself included! I have been breaking up each lecture into a series of short videos, each preceded by a “reflection” question that asks students to think about a concept related to the topic for the video and then followed by a “check-your-understanding” question that gives students immediate feedback as to whether they understood the key ideas. I’m excited that this format will encourage students to stay engaged with the material.
The department has also been focused on diversity this summer. It was the topic of one of our two half-day retreats, and the department’s newly launched Standing Committee on Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion has drafted a Diversity Strategic Plan for the department. As part of that plan, we have hired our first diversity outreach fellow, and we have plans to hire a part-time staff member in the fall who will be embedded in the department.
In other news, the department continues to grow. We are delighted to welcome three additional faculty members this year: Bert Huang, Assistant Professor; David Lillethun, Assistant Teaching Professor; and Daniel Votipka, Visiting Assistant Professor, who will start a tenure-track position with us in January.
This past year has been extremely challenging, and it has affected us all in significant ways. It has been heartbreaking. But it has also been uplifting, seeing how the Tufts Computer Science community has come together to help each other through this very difficult time — for example with the Code for Good program. As we continue to uplift all voices in our department and face the challenges of COVID-19, I welcome your thoughts, ideas, and suggestions. If we work together, we’ll be able to get through the coming year and emerge the stronger for it.