Investigating Students’ Knowledge of the Computing Sub-Disciplines: Recommendations for Career Counsellors and Curriculum Developers

The main goal of this Mount Royal University project is to improve career counselling and academic advising for students interested in the computing disciplines. Computing has undergone massive change over the past 15 years, and the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) has recently released a new set of criteria to help clarify the various sub-disciplines. Our preliminary study (Phase 1) indicated that students do not understand the differences between these sub-disciplines and we suspect that career counsellors and career development specialists also are lacking knowledge of these recent changes. Our goal is to specify the gaps in students’ knowledge of these computing sub-disciplines, and make strides to adjust faculty understanding and career counselling interventions to support student success.

Our team created and tested a survey tool which measures students’ knowledge of the distinct sub-disciplines in the computer sciences field (Phase 1) and we worked to refine the tool and re-administered it to a larger sample of undergraduate students at Mount Royal University in Calgary (Phase 2). Now with CERIC’s support, in this third phase of the project (Phase 3), we will administer the survey to students and faculty at various universities across North America, and thus will be able to survey students in a wider array of computing programs. Our research will likely point to gaps in understanding, and will assist counselling practitioners to ask appropriate questions to support individuals in making informed choices.

We will compile these findings into a Practitioners’ Guide and a Student’s Guide which will be made available as a free downloadable resource. We hope that the Practitioners’ Guide will provide counsellors (practitioners who provide psychosocial and therapeutic interventions on personal and career issues, including psychologists, psychotherapists and social workers) and academic advisors (who provide guidance and advice regarding course and program selection) with accurate discipline information that they can then provide to students prior to application for admission and/or prior to the time when they are required to choose their major. The outcome for students will be to support their career selection process, so that they may make career choices that are more in line with their values and interests. We hope that career counsellors and academic advisors in both secondary and post-secondary institutions will find the results of this study useful in advising students on career choices in the computing fields. Further, we expect the results of this project will make a significant contribution to the ACM, by assisting them to further distinguish the computing disciplines.

Results are envisioned to be disseminated at computer education conferences and journals, and shared among career counselling practitioners.

Contact project lead Janet Miller at