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A French twist for computer science

By Amy Lohmann '14
January 11, 2012

Late in 2011 Associate Professor of Computer Science Dick Brown bid bon voyage to the Hill and flew off to France. Brown was invited to speak at the Universite de Technologie Belfort-Montbeliard (UTBM) located in Belfort, France, and was even able to instruct a few classes on his advanced ideas in Computer Science (CS). 

Although Brown teaches such complex concepts as parallel computing and WebMapReduce regularly to small groups of St. Olaf students, it becomes an entirely different challenge to explain them to students in a foreign country. Brown found several differences in the UTBM classroom experience. "Regular class meetings were two hours long, without a break," says Brown. "And, ordinarily, students in France would never speak to a professor in class." Brown, who taught in English, chose to ignore the French norm of no homework by assigning some to give his new students a hands-on experience with several forms of parallel computing.

"I needed to engage with them interactively as I would at St. Olaf," says Brown. "And they responded! This made it possible for me to show these students a great deal about parallel computing during the two class periods." Brown taught the sophomore level class for a week and also gave a one-hour presentation to a more general audience of students and faculty primarily from UTBM's Computer Science Department. "There was a lot to explain," says Brown. "The subject of my talk was CS education, and the American discipline of education doesn’t exist per se in France."

Brown hopes the connection that has been established between St. Olaf College and UTBM will continue on into the future. "The UTBM folks have shown extraordinary openness and commitment to expanding international connections for their students and faculty. And, of course, getting a global perspective is part of St. Olaf’s mission, too," says Brown. "I have a feeling that this is the beginning of  a fruitful relationship between our campuses." 

Read more about Brown's teaching . . .

Contact David Gonnerman at 507-786-3315 or