Educational Philosophy


student playing game from games capstoneThe University of Washington Brotman Award for Instructional Excellence is in essence a departmental Distinguished Teaching Award, created in 1999 through a gift from Regent Jeffrey Brotman and his wife, Susan. CSE received one of the inaugural Brotman Awards. The "reflective statement" we were asked to write when we became finalists for the award is included below.

"CSE’s educational efforts are shaped by a four-point philosophy:

1. We believe that universities are, first and foremost, educational institutions, and that faculty members are, first and foremost, educators. Students are the "product" of the university and its faculty, in both senses of the word: they are the "output," but more importantly they are the "multiplier" that provides leverage for every faculty member. There are other ways to obtain leverage – one can, for example, conduct research without student involvement. But if you seek your primary leverage in some way other than by educating students, then you will be most effective in some other environment.Capstone Games

2. We believe that a research university is a unique institution that can provide a unique undergraduate education – an education in which bright and committed students are brought to the very forefront of knowledge, closely mentored by faculty who are (with their students) working to redefine that forefront. More importantly, we believe that a research university must provide this kind of education, because no other institution can and because any other kind of education can be provided better and/or cheaper elsewhere. We believe in differentiation: there is something that only the University of Washington and its peers can do, and we must focus on it. "If we’re not striving to seamlessly integrate research and education, we’re screwing up."

Discovery Days

3. We believe in taking a holistic view. Today’s K-12 students are tomorrow’s UW students; we must give them the tools to succeed. The citizens of Washington and their elected representatives pay the bills; they are entitled to a clear explanation of what we are trying to accomplish. The high-technology companies in our region, and our colleagues elsewhere at the University of Washington, represent enormous competitive advantages for us (and we for them); we must reach out in many ways. The future of the University of Washington is inextricably linked to the future of our region; creating a climate conducive to a 21st-century technology-based economy serves everyone’s interests. Finally, special responsibilities fall to computer science programs… because of the role that computer science is playing in transforming all aspects of our lives; we must rise to these responsibilities.

4. Finally, we believe that the University of Washington’s highly capable students, staff, and faculty will respond to encouragement and example, striving for excellence in response to high expectations.

Our educational efforts and approaches follow directly from these principles.

  • We strive to create the best possible educational experience for our students – one that benefits from, and that benefits, our position as a top-ten research program.
  • We invest in our introductory courses because knowledge of computing is fundamental to success in the modern world and because these courses are the "attraction waters" for our major.
  • We aggressively recruit, advise, tutor, and mentor students because we want a diverse collection of the University of Washington’s finest students in our program, and we want these students to succeed.
  • We encourage our undergraduates to work alongside faculty and graduate students as TAs because this benefits both the students taking the courses and the students who TA them and creates a "learning community" that extends from the youngest student to the oldest faculty member.
  • We similarly encourage our undergraduates to work alongside faculty and graduate students as RAs because this is one of many ways in which these students benefit from the unique type of education that only a research university can provide.
  • We facilitate co-op and internship employment because, if properly integrated, it teaches the students things that are complementary to those they learn in our program.
  • We constantly introduce new "Capstone Design Courses" (many of which are interdisciplinary) because our field is advancing at a remarkable pace and because these courses provide an unparalleled opportunity for students to synthesize what they have learned throughout their studies.
  • We employ a wide range of "carrots" to encourage outstanding teaching because encouragement and example work best: a departmental TA award; a departmental faculty teaching award; nomination of faculty and students for University and national recognition; quarterly student evaluations and annual peer evaluations for all faculty, quarterly circulation of a histogram of student evaluations for faculty and for TAs, and more.
  • We invest aggressively in educational technology because it allows us to reach a broad audience of students and citizens and because we believe that ultimately it will change the nature of education, allowing faculty members to spend more of their time doing the things that only they can do. That, in fact, is our overriding objective: to do the things that only we can do and to do them as well as they can be done."