The dysfunctional Computer Science Student Union suffers from institutional failure

With constitutional bylaws ignored and events not hosted, the union is in grave need of improvement

The dysfunctional Computer Science Student Union suffers from institutional failure

The Computer Science Student Union (CSSU) has failed in its duty to adequately represent students in the Computer Science program. Like other course unions and student organizations, the CSSU is responsible for organizing events and providing services to its members. However, this year the CSSU has been complacent in its duties, and has demonstrated gross negligence in following proper rules and regulations.

Events originally proposed by the CSSU, like careers fairs, academic seminars, and tea time with professors never happened. Only six out of 18 events listed on the budget proposal from the beginning of the year occurred. Fortunately, other campus Computer Science groups, like Undergraduate Women in Computer Science, were able to fill the role of hosting tea time with professors and weekly technical interview preps throughout the year.

But it wasn’t always like this. Just last year, the CSSU gained positive attention for hosting a successful first Hack Night at the beginning of the school year with generous sponsorship from both Google and the Department of Computer Science. The CSSU would go on to host four Hack Night events in total that year. Only one was hosted this year.

The CSSU also has trouble following its own rules. The CSSU Constitution mandates that at least one General Meeting must be held per academic semester while classes are in session, with at least two weeks notice given prior to each meeting. This year, no such meetings have been called in either semester. With fewer than two weeks of classes left, there won’t be enough time to host a meeting, and Computer Science students won’t have the chance to voice their opinions.

Disregarding rules and procedures comes with consequences. In the upcoming CSSU election, procedures were initially ignored. According to the Chief Returning Officer (CRO), Christina Chen, the current CSSU president, Hanchen Wang, changed elections procedures in order to permit an online voting system in lieu of a physical ballot system.

Yet, the executives are not allowed to unilaterally make changes to the election process without amending the constitution first — which is impossible at the moment, as no general meetings have been held. After a complaint was filed to the Arts & Science Students’ Union, the CRO corrected the election process so that it followed previous procedures.

This kind of behaviour is not surprising from the CSSU. Already, some Computer Science students see the CSSU as an exclusionary group, or clique consisting of select upper-year students. Students, intimidated by this behaviour, hesitate to hang out in the CSSU student lounge, and conversations within the lounge often consist of language that can be off-putting or uncomfortable for others. The CSSU’s lack of female representation is especially concerning, as there are virtually no women within the group who regularly use the space.

Past and present members alike are unhappy with the current state of the CSSU, with many fearing its demise. Such concerns are not unjustified, as the CSSU has not appointed any first-year representatives this year; these positions are informally used to ensure the continuation of student organizations for future students.

Former CSSU president Jonathan Webb is especially frustrated, saying “The CSSU is actively failing and is not doing its job at all and hasn’t even pretended to try all year.”

Responsible CSSU executives are becoming increasingly necessary since Computer Science is becoming a more popular subject at U of T and elsewhere. The university’s Department of Computer Science is presently experiencing a significant increase in enrolment for both computer science courses and programs. Historically, similar enrolment booms occurred during the late 1980s and the dot-com boom — and with each boom, the percentage of women and minority representation in the field decreased.

In light of the contemporary enrolment boom in Computer Science and its current issues, it is extremely important that the CSSU properly dedicate its efforts and resources to promoting inclusivity and diversity, actually hosting events, and making the CSSU student lounge an environment that is less unwelcoming for students that do not regularly use the space.

 

Charles Huang is a third-year student at University College studying Computer Science and Mathematics. He is running for president of the Computer Science Student Union. 

Student programmers announced as semi-finalists in coding competition

Two U of T undergrads selected as lone representatives from Canada in the 2015 Pearson Coding Competition

Student programmers announced as semi-finalists in coding competition

Everyone learns differently; while some benefit primarily from a visual education, others get more out of listening to information. Increasingly, learning methods are expanding with online videos, books, and applications that make education more accessible. In order to foster the creation of more online learning tools, UK-based educational publisher Pearson Education launched their third annual Pearson Student Coding Contest last September. 

The contest is designed for undergraduate students in the United States and Canada to create applications that help students learn.

This year, two undergraduate students from the University of Toronto, Christopher Goldsworthy and Farhan Samir are the only competitors from Canada to make it into the semi-final round of the competition, along with 19 others from the US. Contestants first pitched their ideas in September by creating a proposal that was judged by a team of industry experts before developing their applications. Winners of the contest will be awarded in February with cash prizes and a chance to intern at Pearson Education. The goal is to integrate the Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), tools that can be used for building software to construct educational apps that are functional and novel.

The Varsity reached one of the U of T semi-finalists in the competition, Christopher Goldsworthy, for an interview. Goldsworthy, a second–year computer science student, created the application HandUp.

Goldsworthy was inspired by an application called Memrise, where users can engage in vocabulary memorization exercises and are awarded points for their performance. HandUp has two main functions: first, to take and share lecture notes, and second, to get more students to study in groups.

Students are awarded points for studying together, creating a fun incentive to learn and a simple online platform for interaction. Points are also awarded based on the quality of the students’ notes. These notes will be compared to other users’ notes, using a program that compares key words. An average selection of key words will be found and as long as the students’ notes are similar to the average, they will be awarded points in the application. Using Bluetooth, the app can also connect different users and their friends in the same class.

With regards to the coding competition, Goldsworthy says his goal is to “develop more of a vocational skill of software development. As long as I make something of professional quality which is usable, I will be satisfied.”

Goldsworthy says it was stressful to balance working on the application with exams, but he plans to complete and perfect the app by the end of January. For now, he is content with the experience he has had with the competition.

When asked for advice to give individuals interested in developing software or going into computer science, he says, “first they should learn a programing language, preferably Java or Python. I recommend Java because of Android. It’s a very simple platform to develop for. Really you just need to have motivation and drive to develop something.”

For the future, Goldsworthy is interested in moving forward to explore projects involving machine learning and visual computing.