2008 Faculty Excellence in Teaching
By Donna J. Eason
March 11, 2009
R. Daniel Bergeron, professor of computer science/Lisa Nugent, Photo Services
“Learning is my favorite part of teaching,” says Dan Bergeron. "I get excited when I'm struggling to present some algorithm or visualization, and I realize that I don't really understand it. The class and I have a wonderful opportunity to work through the problem together and learn something new."
In the fall of 2007, Bergeron's love of learning led him to develop new interactive tools to engage first-year students taking his introductory computer science class. While he begins with the fundamentals—enabling students to build a foundation for problem solving—he uses hands-on activities, such as dungeons-like games, to make abstract concepts concrete. "The conventional way to teach programming is process-oriented—first you do X, then you do Y—but we use a graphics-oriented method that allows students to see problems live on a computer screen," he says. "Students are more likely to understand the material when they have in-class time to work on resolving problems."
This drive also has led him to explore interdisciplinary opportunities for computer science across campus. His collaboration with colleagues at the Hubbard Center for Genome Studies is a case in point. The team has used bio-informatics—a field that applies computer science skills to the life sciences—to bring the awesome computational power of advanced computing to the study of genomic sequencing.
To further understand these disciplines, Bergeron devoted a one-year sabbatical to taking biology and genetics classes. The experience gave him the knowledge he needed to help foster exciting new ways of learning: for himself and his students.
"Computer scientists and biologists speak different languages, each with its own extensive set of acronyms, terms, and concepts," says Lina Faller, a computer science major who completed bioinformatics research as part of a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship. "Professor Bergeron was very helpful in bridging the gap between the two academic disciplines."