The way students learn and the quality of education in computer science classrooms may soon improve, thanks to a generous donation from a former university professor.
Professor emeritus Bill Pugh, a retired computer science professor, pledged on Oct. 1 to donate $500,000 to the computer science department to contribute to the department’s five-year goal of raising $1 million to improve technology-based education and blended learning initiatives.
“He’s a very innovative guy,” said Andrea Morris, development and corporate relations assistant dean for the computer, mathematical and natural sciences college. “He wants the university to shake things up and do things in the best way possible.”
Pugh pledged to give $100,000 each year for five years, with other donors matching this amount. Pugh has already donated this year’s $100,000, and college alumnus Phillip H. Horvitz matched it.
The department will use the money to better educate students through technology, said Samir Khuller, the chairman of the computer science department.
“You want to improve the quality of instruction. … So by the end of five years, we’ll have a much higher quality of instruction,” he said.
Pugh thought there was ample technology available to improve education that he could help bring to the department, Khuller said. Most efforts will be experimental, Pugh said, figuring out what works best in the classroom.
“There’s a lot of great stuff out there, and we’re trying to adapt it to Maryland,” Pugh said.
The donation will help create and introduce the “flipped-classroom model,” Pugh said. Rather than students listening to a professor for a set amount of time in a standard lecture, students will access resources such as books, online components and video segments outside of the classroom and then come to class well-prepared.
If a professor’s lecture is posted online and students can watch it on their own time, more class time can go to asking and answering questions and completing exercises to help students figure out which areas they need to work on — a form of blended learning, Khuller said.
“When you come to the classroom, the students actually have to actively put what they’ve learned into practice … based on the material learned outside of the class,” Pugh said.
Michael Roberts, a sophomore computer science major, said he has never experienced a blended learning course but appreciated Pugh’s gift.
Roberts added that the best way to learn computer science is by having access to and playing with examples of code.
“It’s more than technology,” Morris said. “It’s looking elsewhere for great ideas and implementing them, and then creating new ideas, showcasing how this will help others looking to educate computer scientists in the future.”
After retiring in 2012, Pugh, also a former Google consultant, worked on open-source projects and mentored companies in the area.
Two of his projects that have become popular are Skip Lists, a data structure for organizing lists of information, and FindBugs, a tool that looks for mistakes in Java programming code.
Pugh’s donation will “refresh” computer science education, Morris said. She hopes it will benefit all students in the department.
“It’s very nice to be able to share with alumni that our own faculty … and the investments that they make, mean a lot,” she said. “Our own faculty cares so much about the student experience.”