Google Launching Its Own Computer Science Courses on Campuses

Xconomy San Francisco — 

Early next year, twenty students will have the opportunity to study machine learning for 10 weeks with Google engineers, college professors, and coaches—free of charge.

Google is picking up the tab for tuition, room, and board for all students accepted into its new machine learning intensives in the inaugural year of the program, which starts at Oakland’s Mills College in February for the first 20 students. The course will then be held at four other higher education institutions in the summer.

The bootcamp-like machine learning course is part of a broader Google initiative to bring computer science instruction that it designs itself to college and university campuses. The company’s Applied Computing Series project has also created two introductory courses in computer science and data science that will be offered—at first—at nine schools scattered across the country. As that pilot program gets under way, Google is inviting applications from other colleges and universities that want to provide those basic courses for their students.

In a blog post about the project, Google says its goal is to help meet two growing workforce needs: First, there aren’t enough workers with computer science training to meet the burgeoning demand among tech companies and other businesses. Second, there aren’t enough professors to teach students who want to learn computer science skills in college so they can get those types of jobs.

Google’s solution was to craft an introductory computer science curriculum and online resources so that the two basic courses could be taught by the host school’s own instructors, even if the faculty doesn’t include PhDs in computer science. Google will train professors in STEM fields such as math or physics to shepherd the students’ learning at their home institutions. In a “flipped classroom” approach at Lasell College in Newton, MA, students will read the Google materials, watch videos, and practice skills on their own—then come to class to apply the concepts in hands-on workshops.

Students won’t need any computer science experience to start the introductory course sequence designed by Google, but applicants for the machine learning intensive will need two semesters of college-level computer science or data science coursework, as well as college-level applied statistics. Students who pass the course can earn nine credits toward a degree.

Google hasn’t said how many students it will welcome, free of charge, into the first-year intensives at all five campuses. Students vying for the 20 spots opening up at Mills must apply by Nov. 18. (The application deadline is February 17 for the summer machine learning intensives to be offered at Agnes Scott College, Bay Path University, Heidelberg University, and Scripps College—more on those below.) Any U.S. student can apply.

Google goes to college

Google has been deeply involved in education for years, providing online resources and productivity tools for K-12 classrooms, computer science learning, and higher education.

And the Applied Computing Series project isn’t Google’s first foray into the direct design of courses in post-secondary education. Back in 2014, the company launched a pilot program to train low-income young adults in the fundamentals of tech support so they could qualify for entry-level jobs in the industry. Early this year, Google announced it was scaling up that IT Support certificate program to serve thousands of people by launching a global MOOC (massive open online course) in a partnership with educational technology company Coursera. The series of six online courses was designed to qualify students for jobs that don’t always require a college degree.

Now, with Google’s Applied Computing Series project, the company is signaling interest in a deeper involvement with on-campus academic learning, and a desire to interact directly with a broad group of degree-granting colleges and universities.

“An ideal partner college or university would be one that does not currently have a (computer science) program or whose CS program is at capacity and requires creative solutions to extend classes to more students,” the company said in a blog post announcing the initiative. Google will administer the course content and platform at no charge. Interested schools must apply by Dec. 19 to become part of Google’s second round of college and university partners.

Google has formed its first 10 partnerships with schools that tend to share some common characteristics: they’re mostly small, private liberal arts institutions with leafy campuses. Half of them focus on educating women. These include Mills College and four of the institutions that will offer the basic computer science courses: Scripps College in Claremont, CA; Bay Path University, based in Longmeadow, MA; Agnes Scott College in Decatur, GA, near Atlanta; and Sweet Briar College at the foot of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. (Sweet Briar famously survived closure in 2015 when its alumnae rallied to save it.)

Google has previously declared a goal of spreading computer science education to women and other people who are underrepresented in computer-related jobs.

Among the other four schools offering Google’s introductory courses is Oakland’s Holy Names University, which is coeducational, though 64 percent of its undergraduates are women. The other three are Heidelberg University in Tiffin, Ohio; Adrian College in Adrian, MI, near Ann Arbor; and SUNY Buffalo State, the largest four-year college in the State University of New York system.

A women’s college hosts Google’s first machine-learning intensive

Scoring the Google partnership marks another milestone in Mills’s long history as a pioneer in computer science education. The small private college offered its first computer science course in 1960; in 1974, it became the first women’s college to create a computer science major. Mills has now added a data science major, says the college’s provost, Chinyere Oparah. One of the Mills alumnae who majored in computer science, and who now works in the tech industry, proposed the college to Google as a partner for its Applied Computing Series project, she says.

In recent years, Mills has been reaching out to tech companies that have come under fire because their workforce and leadership are largely white and male. Oparah says that Mills, whose credo is to make higher education more affordable, diverse, and inclusive, can help such companies remedy that imbalance. One-third of Mills students belong to the first generation of their families to attend college; 57 percent are people of color, and 51 percent identify as LGBTQ.

“We partner with you to solve racial and gender inequality,” Oparah says.

Although Mills already offers a course in machine learning, Google’s 10-week intensive will give the college’s professors the chance to see how Google teaches the topic, and what skills it values in a graduate, Oparah says. Google’s curriculum dovetails with Mills’s own policy of providing opportunities for students to apply their theoretical knowledge to real-world challenges and to work in teams, she says.

“We hope this will be the beginning of more collaborations” with Google, Oparah says.

Image credit: CollegeCampus©Mnapoli from Depositphotos