Brown CS News

Malte Schwarzkopf's Innovative Teaching Earns A Wriston Fellowship For Privacy-Aware Programming Research

Click the links that follow for more news about Malte Schwarzkopf, other Brown CS winners of Wriston Fellowships, and other recent accomplishments by our faculty.

Brown University's Henry Merritt Wriston Fellowship is awarded each year to regular untenured members of the faculty who have achieved a record of excellence in teaching and scholarship during their first years at Brown. This year's winner, chosen by a faculty committee, is Professor Malte Schwarzkopf of Brown CS. The honor includes a semester of leave on special assignment at full compensation.

"My teaching includes multiple courses on computer systems," Malte explains. “My students learn how a computer works, from hardware to complex parallel systems and algorithms to protect data privacy."

Malte's teaching accomplishments cited in the award center around innovations developed for his intermediate course CSCI 0300 Fundamentals of Computer Systems and collaboration with other faculty on using adversarial thinking, a mindset from cybersecurity, in CS pedagogy. For CSCI 0300, whose first offering was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Malte responded to the challenges of lecturing during COVID by creating a remote "teaching room" setup with three different camera perspectives that vary to suit the content being presented: direct conversation with students, working with example programs, or drawing diagrams. 


In addition to this use of technology for effective virtual teaching, Malte also changed the structure of the course to suit the virtual setting. Students attended in small-scale “Active Listener Rotations” of 10-12 students, with each session recording 20-30 minutes of lecture material on a single topic in an interactive discussion setting. The other students watched the video and checked their understanding with a post-lecture quiz. This setting helped keep CSCI 0300 engaging despite the virtual setting, and turned the 2021 offering into a one-off experience that made a large intermediate course feel more like a small seminar for students and encouraged everyone to participate.

“I’ve learned a lot from this experiment,” Malte says, “and would love to translate the best elements of this setup – the opportunity to engage with every student, and compartmentalization of material into small, topical videos – to in-person teaching.” 

To learn more about how Malte translated in-person teaching to virtual teaching for CSCI 0300, click here for a demonstration video showing the same lecture in person (February, 2020) and virtually (February, 2021).

In addition, Malte led a department-wide effort funded by the National Science Foundation to introduce adversarial thinking, a mindset from cybersecurity based on evaluating systems from the perspective of an attacker in order to better protect them, into more than a half-dozen other courses. 

Malte will use the fellowship semester to develop a new research project on tools and techniques for privacy-aware programming. It's work that's rooted in his NSF CAREER award on data privacy by design and his experience teaching adversarial thinking to future engineers.

"To help programmers take an adversarial thinking perspective on data privacy," Malte says, "we need tools that help them detect threats to users’ data privacy rights. Such tools would be potentially game-changing for many organizations, but creating practical tools for this purpose requires major conceptual and technical advances in system design, program analysis, usability, and techniques to encode legal and policy perspectives on privacy. Having an entire semester to focus on this challenge will help me set out an agenda and build the initial prototypes that will get a research project in this space off the ground."

Malte is the third Brown CS recipient of the honor, following Professors David Laidlaw and Shriram Krishnamurthi.

For more information, click the link that follows to contact Brown CS Communication and Outreach Specialist Jesse C. Polhemus.