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Computer Science professor Tzu-Yi Chen receives $150,000 NSF grant for collaborative project

Associate Professor of Computer Science Tzu-Yi Chen is one of six professors who has been awarded a $150,000 National Science Foundation grant for a collaborative project titled “Commonsense Computing: What Students Know Before We Teach.”

The professors, who met at various workshops between 2002 and 2005, developed the project after a brainstorming session in 2005. Since then, the group has published three papers and a poster on the subject, and the new grant will aid in their future work on the project.

“We’re hoping to identify what students know about computing before starting formal instruction at the college/university level,” says Chen. “At the same time, we would like to [discover] ways of identifying what students know about these computing concepts, and we would like to provide suggestions to instructors about how they can use their students’ pre-existing knowledge to teach more effectively.”

The two-year grant will be used to fund travel so the group’s members can meet in person several times. Chen will also use funds to hire a student to help with the research, which includes collecting and analyzing student responses to a range of questions as well as doing some interviews.

The five other professors receiving the grant are Dennis Bouvier at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Gary Lewandowski at Xavier University, Robert McCartney at the University of Connecticut, Beth Simon at UC San Diego, and Tammy Van de Grift at the University of Portland. Kate Sanders at Rhode Island College is also involved in the research, though she is not named on the grant.

Chen, who earned her Ph.D. from UC Berkeley, was previously awarded an NSF Career Grant of $400,000 in 2005. The five-year grant funds her project “Preconditioning Large, Sparse Linear Systems: Theory and Practice." The Career grant is the NSF’s most prestigious award; it supports the early career-development activities of those teacher-scholars who are most likely to become the academic leaders of the 21st century.