Department of Computer Science


On the basement bulletin board, new minds for a new era in student journalism.
On the basement bulletin board, new minds for a new era in student journalism.

The project is called DT Delta. It’s the centerpiece of our mission to reinvent The Daily Texan. It’s long overdue, but bold enough to make up for lost time.

Thanks to the generous support of Chairman Bruce Porter, Dr. Glenn Downing, lecturer Mike Scott and others too numerous to mention at the Department of Computer Science, we’ve recruited more than twenty students to work in the basement on new technology initiatives, including app development, social media strategy and data gathering. Most crucially, we’re implementing a radical redesign of our web site, with a focus on a mobile-friendly user interface. For that piece, we’ve also acquired an invaluable resource: Dr. Shayamal Mitra’s web development class is devoting the entire semester to producing iterations of the project, essentially providing a form of curated open-source development with expert supervision. In the newsroom, AME Kelsey McKinney and Technical Director Hayley Fick will make sure the best ideas come together to create a worthy platform for the excellent student journalism of the future.

But even without the new site, The Daily Texan staff is proving that our journalism can succeed online. Compared to the same period last year, page views for the prior two months are up 35 percent, unique visitors are up 52 percent and the bounce rate (how quickly visitors leave) has declined by five percent. Best of all, the average time spent on the page has increased 25 percent, indicating that viewers are sticking around long enough to read a whole article or watch a whole video.

There’s only one plausible explanation: The students have been producing great journalism. One of the longest average page views clocked in at seven minutes for Life of Bevo, a charming behind the scenes look at the university’s mascot by Christine Ayala. Produced in collaboration with multimedia editor Alec Wyman and photographer Zachary Strain, the piece got a jumpstart from a very smartly executed promo listicle deployed over the weekend to grab the attention of football readers. By the next Saturday, our reporter and our video footage were being featured prominently in a pre-game segment on the Longhorn Network.

     Of course, it’s not all cute and cuddly. The intrepid Bobby Blanchard has produced hard-hitting examinations of the university’s financial ties to campus housing developers and worker treatment. And beat reporter Alberto Long started the semester off strong with a major scoop on a series of racially charged balloon attacks, beating beat local and national media outlets. He’s followed up with relentless coverage of campus law enforcement.

     Meanwhile, Chris Hummer’s columns have kept our readers on the pulse of the football coach’s lion-in-winter phase. In the arts department, Sarah-Grace Sweeney’s ACL coverage has engaged readers with some of our finest writing. Starting last week, after meetings with Texas Student Media’s advertising department, every section has been producing recurrent features to hook both readers and advertisers. Our design director, Jack Mitts, has been working overtime to create elegant (and consistent) logos. And maybe I’m getting soft, but I think this image by Jonathan Garza might be the best shot ever taken in the storied history of the Daily Texan Photo Department.

     In the shifting media landscape, it’s all about engagement. And The Daily Texan is claiming a prominent place in the university of tomorrow.

The Department of Computer Science will decrease the number of required classes needed to obtain a degree from the department, a move some faculty hope will allow students to specialize in their interests and experience more while attending school.

Designed to be more flexible, the new curriculum has been a five-year endeavor by the department to allow students to take more electives. Bruce Porter, department chair of the computer science department, said the average student has time for 15 computer science classes. However, the old curriculum required students to take 11 specific courses to obtain a degree, leaving little time to take upper-division electives. The new curriculum has reduced the number of required courses to six. Porter said some students have jumped to conclusions of the department cutting back the number of required courses for budgetary reasons.

“I cannot think of any way that this has a budgetary side to it at all,” Porter said. “Sure, the department has had budget cuts, we’ve all had budget cuts. But that has nothing to do with the curriculum. This is based on what is best for teaching the field.”

He said the idea of scaling back on required classes to open up more upper-division elective options is taking place at computer science schools across the nation and UT was neither ahead nor behind the trend.

Faculty in the department started talking about revisiting the computer science curriculum in 2007, Porter said. He also said the department took a lot of inspiration from a 2001 report by the Association for Computing Machinery, a national organization dedicated to delivering education resources for computing.

The report, titled “Computing Curricula,” states that the required body of knowledge should be made as small as possible.

“Over the last decade, computer science has expanded to such an extent that it is no longer possible simply to add new topics without taking away,” the report said. “We believe that the best strategic approach is to reduce the number of topics in the required core so that it consists only of those topics for which there is a broad consensus that the topic is essential to undergraduate degrees.”

Porter said the department wanted to change the curriculum because the field has gotten too big to try to teach in four years. Now, Porter said students can study the areas that most interest them in depth.

“For some students, it’s going to be the mathematical stuff, for others it’s going to be game development,” Porter said. “Everybody has their own inclination.”

Although much of the new curriculum has already been implemented over the last couple of years, the most recent and final changes to the curriculum include reducing the number of theory classes. The department previously required four theory classes, but now students only have to take two.

“When you go to four to two, it is not like you can take the content in four courses and squeeze it down to two, because the students aren’t any smarter than they had been before,” Porter said. “Instead you have to choose a little bit of one course and add a little bit of another.”

Before the most recent changes, the department reduced the number of required computer system courses from 12 hours of coursework to eight.

“A problem we had in the past is students would take these four system classes and never really come away with the big picture view of how a computer works,” he said.

Associate computer science professor William Cook said while he did not foresee the department needing to make any additional curriculum changes, adjustments might be needed.

“I do think there will probably be some adjustments to fine tune the current system,” Cook said. “There is a lot of room with flexibility, so if there are any problems we can tweak the curriculum.”

Cook said students in the new theory, systems and programming classes will experience classes taught at a faster pace.

“There could be some struggle there as students adjust,” Cook said. “Essentially we are raising the bar and expecting more of the students.”

Calvin Lin, a computer science professor who chaired a committee that defined a new theory course under the new requirements, said students will find more excitement under the new requirements.

“There is also an observation that our old curriculum, because there was this long chain of required courses, students often didn’t see the pay off, they didn’t see the excitement till a few courses down,” Lin said. “The hope is by shrinking the core they will get to see some of the more exciting things quicker, and this is also an opportunity to bring some of the excitement into the core as well.”

Porter said he was pleased with the curriculum and he did not foresee any more upcoming changes. Nevertheless, he said teaching computer science is a constant struggle.

“There will be a continual battle to keep each of these classes current,” Porter said. “But the overall scaffolding of them, that is going to last us at least 10 years.”

City of Austin construction workers continue their remodeling on the Liberal Arts Building located in the East Mall of campus on Wednesday morning. The project is expected to complete in the 2013 Spring semester.

Photo Credit: Skylar Isdale | Daily Texan Staff

New facilities for the College of Communication, the Department of Computer Science and the College of Liberal Arts will provide advanced technology resources as well as department-unified locations for students and faculty by the end of the next academic year.

Each of the new buildings is currently on schedule for their targeted completion dates, according to their corresponding websites. The Belo Center for New Media, located on the corner of Dean Keeton and Guadalupe streets, is scheduled to open March 2013. The Bill & Melinda Gates Computer Science Complex and Dell Computer Science Hall, located on Speedway and 24th Street, are both scheduled to open December. The Liberal Arts Building, located in the East Mall next to the Student Activity Center, is scheduled for completion during the spring 2013 semester.

The addition of the new buildings on campus will provide the Department of Computer Science and the College of Liberal Arts with a headquarters where faculty and students can share a unified building. Previously the colleges were spread out among several buildings on campus.

Nancy Hatchett, associate director of communications for the Department of Computer Science, said the new computer science complex will offer a complete range of services for computer science majors.

“Classroom space, labs, office space for faculty, staff and student organizations as well as visitor space and open collaborative spaces for both undergraduate and graduate students [will be in the new building],” Hatchett said. “There will also be educational, research, outreach and social activities, a coffee bar and locker room.”

The new computer science complex is named after its two major benefactors, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. The two namesakes of the philanthropic foundations may make an appearance at the University once construction has finished, Hatchett said.

“An opening celebration inviting both Gates and Dell will be held at a yet to be specified time after computer science moves into the new building,” Hatchett said. Computer sciences senior Ross Gayler said the students and faculty in his major will benefit from having their department unified into one building. “Right now we are very spread out around campus,” Gayler said. “Now all of our labs and professors will be in one place instead of seven different buildings.”

The new Liberal Arts Building is being constructed atop the former locations of Steindam Hall and the ROTC Rifle Range Building. UT ROTC was formerly housed in Steindam Hall and will be relocated to a dedicated floor within the Liberal Arts Building.

Journalism junior Brooke Myers said she welcomes the addition of the Belo Center for New Media and said it will allow students like her to study the phenomenon of digital media in more detail. “Internet media is now a major factor in the daily lives of most Americans,” Myers said. “With the new building, we will now have more resources to study the topic more.”

Printed on Thursday, January 26, 2012 as: UT buildings will open next acadmic year

When searching for an academic institution to partner with for research purposes, SunGard Availability Services needed a great city and a top-rate institution. They found both in a recent partnership with UT-Austin.

SunGard was looking for an academic institution with quality research to further explore the area of cloud-based technologies, which aim to provide easier access to shared resources and information through networks. The company is partnering with the Department of Computer Science using the new Cloud Computing Research Center.

Computer Science Professor and Executive Committee member Keshav Pingali said SunGard CTO Indu Kodukula was a former doctorate student of his and selected UT after scoping out other top-10 schools.

“We’re doing very good research here in areas that interest SunGard,” Pingali said. “The University was welcoming and flexible and that really helped.”

Pingali said the idea behind cloud technology lies in sharing information with others in a reliable and safe way.

“The idea is that there are going to be these big servers and that all your files will be sitting on a server,” Pingali said. “It’s like having a web address — you tell people so they can directly get the information from there.”

Pingali said cloud computing is more reliable because it avoids the problem of individual computer crashes but also presents safety concerns that are currently being addressed through research.

“On a laptop, you can shut it down and no one can have access to it. But when you want to share that information, there are these new security issues that come up,” Pingali said. “How do you make sure that information is secure? That’s one of the things SunGard wants to work on. We have one of the best security groups in the world working in the computer science department on that project.”

SunGard CTO Indu Kodukula mentioned two specific projects the partnership is looking at.

“One project is the adoption of the exabyte scale, and being able to provide that for objects, files and block-oriented storage,” Kodukula said. “Another project is using the presence of cores within a processor to speed up the hypervisor and drive high levels of performance.”

Other upcoming projects will include addressing security issues as well as speeding up the process of sharing information, Pingali said.

“People will use it only if they can get hold of information quickly,” Pingali said. “How do you build these servers in such a way that they can take millions of requests and then quickly turn around these requests and get the information they want?”

SunGard also hopes to involve both undergraduate and graduate students in these projects, Pingali said, and employees will be on campus interacting with students.

The quality of students at UT is another reason SunGard chose to partner, Pingali said.

“Like every company, they’re looking for first-rate people to employ,” he said. “They were very impressed with the students at UT — they’re hoping to use the lab as a way of finding students and graduates and employing them at SunGard. It’s very student-centered.” 

Printed on Tuesday, November 22, 2011 as: SunGard picks UT to help improve on cloud computing