The Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education (SIGCSE) of the Association for Computing Machinery has named Stephen Edwards, professor and the associate department head for undergraduate studies in the Department of Computer Science, as the 2021 recipient of the Outstanding Contribution to Computer Science Education Award. 

"It was a complete shock when I learned that I won," said Edwards, who has been attending SIGSCE for the last 15 years seeing his "idols" win. "This award means a huge amount to me because it comes from the special interest group committee, which I am passionate about."

Initiated in 1981, the award honors an individual or group in recognition of a significant contribution to computer science education. The contribution may take many forms, including curriculum design, innovating teaching methods, textbook authorship, development of new teaching tools, or any of a number of other significant contributions to computer science education.

In the spring, Edwards presented a virtual keynote address for the 2021 SIGCSE Technical Symposium, entitled “Automated Feedback, the Next Generation: Designing Learning Experiences.” 

A screenshot of the speakers at the 2021 SIGCSE Technical Symposium

Edwards is the project lead for the Web-based Center for Automated Testing (Web-CAT), the most widely used open-source automated grading system in the world. Since 2004, when Edwards first developed and introduced Web-CAT, it quickly became the leading tool for automated grading and feedback. 

"Web-CAT was a turning point in my career, a road marker and for what I am most well-known," said Edwards. "People keep pointing to it because of its persistence in a way, in that it is a tool that is never done and keeps evolving and pushing forward."

As free and open-source software, Web-CAT servers have been deployed for supporting computing educators at approximately 90 institutions, both in the United States and internationally.

“Web-CAT provides the computing education community with a scalable solution for delivering valuable, immediate feedback to students as they submit programming assignments,” said Kevin Buffardi, associate professor in the Department of Computer Science at California State University, Chico.

Buffardi, who worked as a Ph.D. candidate alongside Edwards, saw firsthand the impact of Web-CAT, said he was a “benefactor of his innovations [Edwards] as well as his mentorship.” 

In his nomination letter, Buffardi wrote, “This prestigious award recognizes ‘development of new teaching tools,’ ‘innovative teaching methods,’ and a ‘long lasting impact’ on computing education, as exemplified by Dr. Edwards’ leadership, technical innovations, and influential education research.”

"Within the computer science education community, Steve is best known for being the lead developer and director of the Web-CAT online submission system," said Cliff Shaffer, professor and associate department head for graduate studies, in his nomination endorsement. "This has been perhaps the most widely used student programming project submission system ever created."

Shaffer, who has been a colleague of Edwards for more than 20 years, further commended Edwards' impressive publication record. As part of the recent 50-year anniversary of SIGCSE, data points were collected to find the highest rated papers, and most prolific authors over the life of the conference. "Steve has a top-10 rated paper from the 50 years of SIGCSE, and is also one of the top-10 most prolific SIGCSE authors."

Beyond Web-CAT, Edwards is also the developer and project director for Code Workout, which supports auto-grading of small programming exercises. Another is the SPLICE project which seeks to support the broader computer science education software development community to better integrate various tools.