Interviews by Stephen Ibaraki, FCIPS, I.S.P., MVP, DF/NPA, CNP
Dr. A. Joseph Turner, Internationally Regarded Computer Science Authority and Educator; Professor Emeritus, Clemson
This week, Stephen Ibaraki, FCIPS, I.S.P. has an exclusive interview with Dr. Joe Turner, Professor Emeritus, Clemson University.
Joe Turner received the PhD in Computer Science from the University of Maryland in 1976. He also received BS and MS degrees in Applied Mathematics from Georgia Tech in 1961 and 1966, respectively. Dr. Turner joined Clemson University in 1975 as Assistant Professor of Mathematical Sciences, and he retired as Professor of Computer Science in 2000. He served as Head of the Department of Computer Science from 1978 to 1992. He also served as Professor of Information Systems from 2001 to 2003, and as Dean of the College of Information Systems from 2003 to 2004 at Zayed University in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
His current activities include serving as a member of the Computing Accreditation Commission (CAC) of ABET, a representative to IFIP (International Federation for Information Processing) and IFIP Technical Committee 3 (Education), a member of the IFIP Council, and a member of the editorial board for three journals.
He has previously served as Vice-President of the ACM, President of the Computing Sciences Accreditation Board (CSAB), Chairman of the ACM Education Board, and as a member of the Boards of Directors of the Computing Research Association, the National Educational Computing Association, and the Association of Specialized and Professional Accreditors. He has served more than twenty times as a consultant and on evaluation teams for computer science programs at the undergraduate, masters, and doctoral levels both for individual institutions and for state agencies.
The latest blogs on the interview can be found the week of November 3 and November 6, 2006 in the Canadian IT Managers (CIM) forum where you can provide your comments in an interactive dialogue.
Opening Comment: Joe, you bring a substantive history of significant and considerable contribution to education, society, industry, and computing science to this interview. With your very tight schedule, we are fortunate to have your share your many deep experiences with the audience. Thank you!
A: Thanks for your compliments. I am pleased to participate in the interview, and I hope that I can contribute some worthwhile responses.
Q1: You served as Professor of Information Systems from 2001 to 2003, and as Dean of the College of Information Systems from 2003 to 2004 at Zayed University in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. What insights did you pick up from this period?
A: I have known of people who described similar experiences as "life changing", but I am not prone to such dramatic descriptions. However, it was a wonderful experience that affected me in many ways, and I wish that more people from North America could have a similar experience.
Zayed University is a Federal university for female citizens of the UAE, and it was very interesting to see the transition of the women students from a traditional Arabic educational background, which consists mostly of rote memorization and authoritarian teacher-student relationships, to a Western-style education while learning to learn in an English-based (second language) environment. My belief that students are basically the same everywhere, and can learn an amazing amount if properly motivated and capable, was definitely reinforced by this experience.
Perhaps more interesting than the academic experience was the cultural experience. I lived not in a compound, but in normal apartment buildings with a variety of cultural and ethnic occupants. The UAE is very progressive, and Dubai is very dynamic and modern. I received strong reinforcement to my previously-held beliefs that there is more than one side to issues such as the Israel-Palestine conflict and that neither side is completely "right". I also came to see that there is more than one "right" way to do things, and that our (U.S.-Western) way is not always the best way in all contexts. It is discouraging that Western politicians, especially in the U.S., can't see this or believe that they can't afford to admit it politically.
Q2: Can you share your experiences from your time consulting for Boeing
A: My consulting for Boeing involved identifying undergraduate computing programs that produced graduates with the capabilities that Boeing needed. It was interesting to see the process, in which Boeing produced a profile (specification) of its needs and then asked us to identify programs whose graduates should satisfy this profile. It is not unlike the process toward which ABET and other accreditation in the U.S. has moved, with an emphasis on student expected outcomes and measuring how well those outcomes are achieved. This experience also demonstrated how important well-qualified graduates are to industry, and how industry often takes a careful, analytical approach to making decisions about how to meet its needs.
Q3: Can your profile your past involvement as a member of "Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR)." What did you hope to achieve? What were and still are the major issues? How should professionals rethink their roles for the coming decades?
A: I am no longer a member of CPSR and some other organizations as well, due to my retirement and absence from the U.S. for the three years that I was in Dubai. However, this lapse in membership (and others as well) does not indicate a decrease in interest in, or appreciation for, the organization. CPSR serves as an important social conscience for the computing community and it expresses important points relevant to computer applications in general. It is essential that computing professionals recognize the social issues and potential problems of computer applications such as electronic voting and life-affecting medical processes, and CPSR, along with other organizations such as ACM and the CRA, play very important roles in bringing these important issues to the attention of computing professionals, government, and the public.
Q4: You received the ACM SIGSCE Award for Lifetime Service, ACM Outstanding Contribution Award, and you are an ACM Fellow. Moreover you received recognition as Teacher of the Year. You have a unique position of accumulated wisdom. What do you see as the major challenges facing computing education and can you share your insights on how they can be resolved? What are the trends in computing education and how can we meet the challenge?
A: I see two primary challenges for computing education. One is to provide programs of study that meet the needs of industry, and to do this in a way that prepares students for lifelong learning to keep up with changing technologies and new concepts. There is some doubt that our traditional "computer science" programs in North America are appropriate for most industry needs and student interests. This is not to say that there is no longer a need for computer science programs, because computer science will continue to play a role in pushing the foundational boundaries of computing and there will continue to be a need for computer science (and engineering) graduates for many jobs. But I think it is likely that enrollments in traditional computer science/engineering programs will become less than enrollments in other programs such as information technology and information systems.
A second challenge is to attract enough students into computing programs to meet the demand for skills in computing. This is not unrelated to the challenge of developing more appropriate programs of study, because some students do not find traditional programs in computer science or information systems interesting. However there are additional problems due primarily to a belief that computing jobs in North America are rapidly diminishing because of offshoring and the continuing effects of the dot-com bust. Despite government reports to the contrary and pronouncements (or even pleas) from the computing industry that there is a continuing need for well-educated graduates, potential students and their parents persist in fearing that majoring in a computing discipline will result in few, if any, job opportunities. The ACM has published an excellent report, "Globalization and Offshoring of Software", that addresses many of the myths that persist, and the ACM also has launched a brochure and website that are aimed at providing information about computing careers that will attract more students into computing majors. But it remains to be seen whether these and other efforts to reverse the trend of declining enrollments will succeed.
Q5: You continue to provide Editorial Services with Education and Information Technologies, Informatica Didactica, and the Journal on Educational Resources in Computing. Can you describe your work? What are the top challenges in these roles? What do you hope to accomplish?
A: My work as an editor involves recruiting and assigning reviews to reviewers, and then reviewing the reviews and making a recommendation on acceptance of submitted papers. I also do some reviews myself. The purpose of the work is the standard purpose for academic publications: to identify and publish significant contributions to the expansion of knowledge in the field, and to ensure that the work that is published is original and sound through qualified peer evaluation. One of the challenges is to ensure that the results have not been published elsewhere, which is becoming increasingly difficult because of the proliferation of venues for publication.
Q6: You serve as a member of the Computing Accreditation Commission (CAC) of ABET. What are the top issues?
A: I don't think that I can identify THE top issues, and I can't speak for CAC or ABET. But in a sense our continuing top issue is how to provide an accreditation process that is fair, respected, and of the highest quality. This is easier said than done, because the accreditation process is carried out mostly by hundreds of volunteers. Almost all of these volunteers are incredibly dedicated and competent, but of course with that many people who have primary demands on their time from jobs and family, it is difficult to avoid some situations where the level of performance by a volunteer is less than what is desired. It also is a challenge to maintain a process that clearly allows flexibility and innovation in programs without allowing inadequate programs to satisfy the requirements.
One of the current challenges that ABET faces is what to do in the international arena. ABET has some mutual recognition agreements with other accreditation agencies in English-speaking countries, but there are increasing requests for accreditation from institutions in other countries. This all ties in to the globalization of the world's economies and increasing internationalization of curricula that are designed to achieve common outcomes. ABET does not currently accredit programs that are outside the US except in institutions that have ties to the US and are accredited by a US institutional accrediting agency, but the increasing demand from programs outside the US for ABET accreditation is causing this policy to be reexamined.
Q7: You are a representative to IFIP (International Federation for Information Processing) and IFIP Technical Committee 3 (Education), and a member of the IFIP Council. As the ACM representative for the IFIP General Assembly, you attended the session in August. What were the highlights from this session? What do you see as the future for IFIP?
A: The highlight of the August session was the adoption of a strategic direction for IFIP. The most immediate effect of this new direction will likely be IFIP's involvement in coordinating various programs for professional credentialing from IFIP member societies. IFIP is uniquely positioned to serve as the apolitical international body for such coordinating roles and in similar roles as a respected source of unbiased information for professionals, governments, and the public. The new directions will focus more on how to fulfill these international roles than in the past, where the emphasis has been on the international exchange of information, mostly by researchers. However, IFIP's Technical Committees will continue to serve as important conduits for computing researchers and other professionals in various countries to exchange information and to work together to solve current problems.
Q8: You have served more than twenty times as a consultant and on evaluation teams for computer science programs at the undergraduate, masters, and doctoral levels both for individual institutions and for state agencies. What surprised you? Can you share some of your most notable experiences?
A: Many of these experiences happened during the 1980s when many institutions were trying to develop computer science programs and wanted outside help in understanding what was needed regarding a curriculum, staffing, and facilities. In most cases institutions were starting computer science programs because CS programs were becoming very popular and enrolled lots of students. But PhD faculty in CS were very difficult to hire, so developing new programs was not easy. I don't know that it really was a surprise, but it was interesting how often an institution wanted to develop a good program without putting any resources into it. In some cases, administrators couldn't understand why faculty in areas of declining enrollment couldn't just teach computer science, but then there was not much appreciation then that computer science was more than learning to program.
Another interesting observation was that the same problems occurred in many different institutions. For example, the question as to where a Department of Computer Science should be administratively located often came up, and there was no common answer. In some cases, a college/school of engineering worked best, but in others the best place was in a college of science or arts and science and in some a college of business even worked well. It all had to do with the local environment, the history and culture of the institution, and the feelings of the faculty involved.
Q9: You have a long history with the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) dating back to 1968 holding many senior positions within the ACM. Which ones are you most proud of and what lessons do you wish to share? What role do you think the ACM will play in the future?
A: I am most proud of my work with the ACM Education Board that led to the "Denning report" on Computing as a Discipline during the 1980s, and the follow-on work in a joint ACM/IEEE-CS task force that led to the first joint curriculum recommendations in 1991. This work collectively reshaped much of the thinking about the computing discipline(s) and established important collaboration between the ACM and the IEEE-CS that still continues and in fact has expanded to include the AIS as well. There was a lot of criticism for the 1991 curriculum report, but given the obstacles that it had to overcome and its objective to encourage innovative thinking about computing programs, I consider it a big success. The Denning report has continued to be very influential. The success of these efforts was primarily due to the excellent people who worked on the task forces, but I played a significant role in instigating and fostering the work.
Q10: Throughout your long history of successes, what do you consider your most notable and memorable roles [and for what reasons]?
A: One of these was mentioned in my work with ACM in the previous question. I remember my discussions with influential members of the IEEE-CS that led to forming the cooperative curriculum efforts that continue today, and also much bridge building and cajoling behind the scenes during the initial joint task force to overcome problems and issues that seriously threatened to derail the cooperative effort.
I also would have to include my role as the founding Head of the Department of Computer Science at Clemson to be a pivotal and memorable one. I began this position as an untenured Assistant Professor, something that I would strongly recommend against. But it all worked out and with the help of excellent faculty members and good administrative support we built a good department in the face of significant obstacles. The most satisfying part is that the department has continued to grow and improve since I stepped down as Department Head (but this might be a result of my departure rather then my tenure!).
My experience in developing computer science accreditation also is memorable. Again, the success of the effort was due to the many excellent and dedicated people who made it work. I am proud to have served as Chair of the Computer Science Accreditation Commission and as President of the Computing Sciences Accreditation Board during the early development of computing accreditation in the US.
Q11: Please share some stories from your work?
A: One of my early experiences in Dubai was when I made the first assignment and returned the first set of graded work to the students. I was somewhat surprised when many of the students first tried to negotiate for a later due date after not completing the work on time, and then tried to negotiate for a higher grade. I had not been there long enough to realize that negotiation (bargaining) is a part of their culture, but fortunately did not react the way I might have had the same situation occurred with students in the US. Instead, I clearly explained the procedures and rules regarding due dates and grades, and had no problems after that. This also illustrated a part of their culture: acceptance of rules and decisions made after discussion with persons of authority.
Another interesting/amazing thing from Dubai was to observe the speed with which things could be done when decreed by the appropriate persons. This applied not only to physical structures such as buildings and roads, but also to such things as universities. Zayed University went from concept to conducting classes with its first cohort in less than two years. The early years often seemed like building an airplane as it was taking off and finishing while it was flying, but it was interesting to see what could be accomplished under the direction of officials who couldn't understand why things such as hiring faculty and staff and developing curricula and course syllabi couldn't be finished by tomorrow (or even today).
Q12: What are the top technology issues presently facing businesses and how do you propose they can be solved?
A: I can't speak for businesses, but surely one of the top issues has been the same for more than 20 years: the production of reliable software. The solution to this problem has to be shared by business as well as by academic programs. In the academic programs, we need to do a better job of teaching methods for developing reliable software as well as an understanding of its importance. Business shares part of the blame for the problem by using developers who are not well qualified, by encouraging procedures that emphasize fast production at the expense of quality, and by releasing software that has not been adequately validated.
Another top issue is related to software quality: security of computing and communication systems and networks. Again, the solution lies in improving academic programs to better prepare graduates to produce reliable systems, and in better implementation practices by businesses to emphasize security and reliability rather than expeditious production.
Q13:What should businesses know about future trends? What are the implications and business opportunities? Why should businesses care?
A: I learned long ago that I am not very good at predicting the future. I would have agreed with Ken Olson when he said "There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home". But obviously businesses need to keep up with trends even if future trends are not predictable. One thing that is clear is that advances in miniaturization, nanotechnology, and the capabilities of computing and communication technologies will continue to occur, and that this will provide numerous new business opportunities to address the changes in business processes and in people's lives because of the advances in technology.
Q14: Which are your top recommended resources and why?
It depends on what the resource is to be used for. In general, the publications of societies such as ACM and IEEE-CS and the search capabilities of their digital libraries provide broad coverage. Most of these publications are oriented toward researchers, but some are for practitioners as well. The conferences of these organizations and others provide perhaps the best way to keep up with current problems and future trends. There is still no good substitute for one-on-one discussions with colleagues who are working on similar issues, and networking at conferences provides many opportunities for such discussions.
Q15: Provide commentary on topics of your choosing.
A: Topic 1: Globalization (1)
Topic 2: Shortage of IT skills.
Topic 3: Globalization (2)
Closing Comment: Joe, we will continue to follow your work in so many arenas. We thank you for sharing your time, wisdom, and accumulated deep insights with us.
A: I don't think that I have provided anything very deep, but I am pleased to share some thoughts with you and honored to have been asked to participate.