A new master's program for computer science teachers

Alain Herzog © EPFL 2021
Alain Herzog © EPFL 2021

As computer science emerges as an important new high school subject across Switzerland, EPFL and HEP, the teacher’s training college in Vaud, have joined forces to launch a Master with specialization in Computer Science for teaching.

From shopping and eating to banking and communication, computers touch nearly every aspect of our modern daily lives and as a result, understanding computer science of increasing importance. This is particularly true for young people who will continue to live through what is sometimes described as the fourth industrial revolution - in which disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence, robots and virtual reality are changing the way we live and work.

In response, from 2022 across Switzerland, computer science will be a compulsory subject in high schools, driving a need for teachers who can inspire students in this broad subject. To fast track teacher training in this field, EPFL and HEP-VD have jointly developed a new Master with specialization in Computer Science for teaching , where students obtain a Computer Science, Communications Systems or Data Science master’s, as well as a teaching diploma in Computer Science at the high school level.

"This new program is about the right balance of subjects and classes to ensure that students can earn sufficient credits on the one hand from computer science and then on the other, the pedagogical side. The feedback we have had is that the balance is working and that the program is in good shape," said Olivier Lévêque, a senior scientist in the School of Computer and Communication Sciences (IC) who led the development of the new master’s program.

"In the past, for many students studying computer science at university their primary motivation probably wasn’t to go into teaching, particularly when computer classes in high schools were more focused on things like Microsoft Office. We hope that the new high school curriculum, focused on teaching the fundamentals of computer science, will be much more interesting and motivating to potential teachers," he continued.

Micha Hersch is a lecturer at HEP-VD who teaches the didactics of computer science as part of the new master’s program and whilst the technical aspects of the field are important, he says students gain broader knowledge through this course.

"For those who enjoy the technical aspects of computer science but are also interested in humanities subjects such as learning processes in humans, or psychology, there is a wide range of subjects. In addition, increasingly, the teaching of computer science involves more than the basics of programming or algorithmics or computer architectures. We also explore the social, environmental or ethical effects of digitalization. I think this is really important for the coming generations and it makes the teachers’ jobs quite broad and rich," he said.

The new master’s course will be presented at the EPFL Information Days , Wednesday 24 and Thursday 25 November, where prospective students can learn more about the choice of bachelor and master’s programs offered by EPFL.

"I chose this master’s degree because teaching, and in particular helping others, is something that is close to my heart. In addition, it allows me to earn a double degree which is an asset when leaving EPFL. I’m looking forward to the new computer science subject in Swiss high schools, which I hope will integrate "real" concepts of computer science like algorithms and binary base, unlike what I learned," explained Sophie Ammann, a Communication Systems student at EPFL.

Another EPFL computer science student who has just started the new master’s program, Tom Demont, is looking forward to gaining the theoretical knowledge of teaching and then to applying it, "I feel that many younger students have an aversion to math and computer science, but math isn’t a monster, it’s an amazing tool. I want to inspire high school students to be connected to these subjects because they are critically important. I hope I can teach them to code something small and help solve a problem so that they can use computer science in their everyday lives."

"We’ve had good interest in the new masters within Switzerland, and have been positively surprised that students living outside of the country, who aren’t even native French speakers, want to take part in this course. It shows that we are on the right track and that there is space for a program like this. It also increases the visibility around different career options in computer science, including teaching, and that’s certainly one of the goals we had in mind when we were developing this," concluded Olivier Lévêque.

The Master with specialization in Computer Science for teaching spreads over 120 + 9 ECTS credits, with a first year corresponding to a Computer Science (IN), Communication Systems (CS) or Data Science (DS) master, and a second year comprising the master project, as well as specialization courses at HEP .