Computer science research with social impact featured at REThink showcase

REThink at Drexel University hosted a research showcase at the Bossone Research Center on August 3 featuring collaborative projects conducted by 10 science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) high school teachers and community college instructors alongside faculty mentors from Drexel University’s College of Computing and Informatics (CCI) during a six-week summer research institute. The program, funded by the National Science Foundation, serves to build partnerships among local high schools, community colleges, industries, and the university. It also introduces teachers to cutting-edge computer science research and produces socially-conscious learning materials for use in high school and community college STEM programs.

This year’s REThink cohort pursued diverse research topics grounded in real-world application including driver distraction, smart garments for perinatal care, real-time brain sensing for learning assessment, histology image analysis for diagnosing cancer, and detecting mental illness through social media behavior. During the informal presentations, each participating educator took care to demonstrate not only how the research experience would influence their classroom practice, but also explained the broader ways in which applied computer science research can contribute to social good.

In addition to emphasizing social impact of computing, the research projects in the Drexel REThink program are tied together through the theme of Machine Learning for Human-Centered Computing.  According to REThink’s co-director Assistant Professor Erin Solovey, PhD, “While understanding machine learning and AI algorithms and big data are crucial, it is also critical to have a strong foundation in human-centered computing to ensure that the AI innovations lead to societal benefits. Teachers that are knowledgeable in both machine learning and human-centered computing will have the skills and proficiency to support and inspire students in these areas.”

Omar Ali, a video game development teacher who works with juniors and seniors at Northeast High School, collaborated with Computer Science Department Head Dario Salvucci, PhD, on the distracted driving project. Ali, who is a returning REThink participant, explained how taking part in the program has impacted his teaching practice. “The work we do here equips teachers with new tools and approaches for bringing technology into their classrooms and giving their students hands-on projects. I think it’s important to teach my students about the fundamentals of computing, but it’s also important to show them what it looks like to have a career in the STEM fields,” Ali said. 

Co-director of REThink Professor Jeff Popyack, PhD, further expanded on the importance of demonstrating the benefits that computer science research can contribute to society. “REThink makes a conscientious effort to emphasize social impact in our projects.  Computer science is a field with far-reaching influence, but to high school students, the face of CS is largely in Internet usage and video games.  Our projects demonstrate direct societal benefit which should be meaningful to students, parents, administrators, and other teachers, and highlight the relevance of computing across not only the STEM spectrum, but society as a whole,” Popyack said. 

The participating teachers will remain engaged year-round by taking part in monthly electronic meetings with their faculty mentors, attending a winter campus meeting and other regional events, culminating in a 1-day showcase event in the spring to present results, materials and posters. 

For more information about the program, please visit the REThink website

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