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NKU Informatics Receives "Everything Computes" Grant

Wednesday, October 7, 2009 HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. — Northern Kentucky University has received notice that the National Science Foundation (NSF) will provide grant funding for a novel program to stimulate computational thinking across many disciplines.

The NSF program that funds the project is entitled "Pathways to Revitalized Undergraduate Computing Education." The purpose of this national program is to contribute to the development of a globally competitive workforce with competency in computational thinking, which the NSF views as essential to U.S. leadership in global innovation.

Over the next three years, the program will bring to campus so-called "informaticists in residence." These are scientists, scholars, and artists from other institutions whose work connects with computing. They will assist NKU faculty inside and outside the College of Informatics in developing an innovative Principles of Informatics course and an associated textbook. They will also help develop advanced computer science student projects in new application areas.

Dr. Kevin Kirby, chair of the Computer Science Department and principal investigator on the grant, said the new learning experiences will be designed around the idea that, in brief, "Everything computes. From atoms to DNA, to brains and computers, to computer networks and social networks, to the planet itself, information is being generated and transformed. Computational thinking is not just for computer scientists."

"The project funded by this grant is nothing short of revolutionary in academic realm, " explained Dr. Douglas Perry, dean of the College of Informatics. "First, the curriculum developed will strive to do far more than just impart subject material for memorization; it will present a model of thinking — computational thinking — to students of different majors. Second, the project will approach computational thinking by teaching a new way of looking at things: observing 'computation' in the broadest sense at a wide range of spatial and temporal scales. This project will create a new educational paradigm in computer science that will be invaluable to the study of informatics."

The midpoint of this three year project will be marked by the opening of Griffin Hall, the new $52.8 million state-of-the-art home for the College of Informatics. Its most prominent space, the Digitorium, will be the key learning space for this new Principles of Informatics course. NKU computer scientists Drs. James Walden and Maureen Doyle, who are co-principal investigators on the grant, will oversee the piloting of this course, which will eventually be required for all majors in the college.

The project has proved to have special appeal for artists interested in digital technology. Ira Greenberg, interactive media artist at Southern Methodist University, and Anthony Moore, composer and former rector of the Academy of Media Arts in Cologne, Germany, both wrote letters of support for the grant. "The U.S. National Science Foundation clearly sees NKU as a leader in linking informatics to the arts and sciences," said Moore, who was visiting campus last week to meet with NKU faculty and students.

Dr. Jimmie Manning, Assistant Professor of Communication, will bring his expertise on social informatics to the project. "I shared the news of this grant with some colleagues in the National Communication Association," said Manning, "and they were most impressed. The inclusion of Communication in the College of Informatics has caused many communication departments across the country to watch how we progress with interest   it makes me proud to be part of such a successful, innovative college that is setting the standard in so many ways."

The project, entitled "Informatics at Multiple Scales", expects funding at $296,000 over three years. Proposed by computer scientists in the College of Informatics, one of its key goals is to give all undergraduate students a chance to explore how computation connects with science, humanities, and the arts.

The project ends in 2012 with a conference and workshop on campus designed to disseminate these curricular ideas to other universities.

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