Charles Wallace, PhD
Associate Professor of Computer Science
Affiliated Professor, Cognitive & Learning Sciences
Associate Dean for Curriculum & Instruction, College of Computing
205 Rekhi Hall
1400 Townsend Drive, Houghton MI 49331 USA +1(906)487-3431
Curriculum Vitae

I grew up in northern California during the time of the personal computing revolution. I was an original member of Mr. Conway's Computer Parlor at West Marin School in 1979, and in the 1980s I worked as a software developer in the North San Francisco Bay Area during the time of Telecom Valley. Another lifelong interest for me is language, and I studied linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California, Santa Cruz before getting my PhD in Computer Science at the University of Michigan. I've always thought of myself as someone at the Computing Crossroads. Most of my projects are interdisciplinary and involve computing, language, and learning in some way.

Current Projects

The BASIC program features student volunteers from Michigan Technological University who assist participants with the basics of digital literacy, as well as more advanced topics. Sitting in on one of these sessions for even a few minutes is an eye-opening introduction to the obstacles that older adults and other newcomers face as they attempt to embrace digital technology.

BASIC has been hosted since 2011 at the Portage Lake District Library in Houghton MI. Over the years, the group has brought BASIC to a number of other venues, including the Ojibwa Community Library in Baraga MI, Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly in Hancock MI, and Michigan Works! in Hancock MI. The program has expanded to include programs at Ashlar Village in Wallingford CT and Elim Park in Cheshire CT, with student volunteers from Quinnipiac University providing one-on-one tutoring.

Collaborators: Kelly Steelman (Cognitive & Learning Sciences), Briana Bettin (Computer Science / Cognitive & Learning Sciences), Leo Ureel (Computer Science / Cognitive & Learning Sciences). Student researchers: Ann Ciesla, Harriet King, Kirk Thelen (Computer Science), Dana Pontious (Cognitive & Learning Sciences)

Copper Country Coders is a student organization at Michigan Tech dedicated to providing Michigan Tech students with experience in computer science education. Since 2011, we have introduced students in middle and high school to the world of computer science and programming through open-ended project ideas so that students can learn through exploration.

We provide weekly sessions where we introduce students to a variety of new computing topics and programming language features. Some of our past group topics have been Introduction to Programming with Snap!, Java Game Development, Python for Beginners, Introduction to Computer Engineering, Processing and Web Development, and DIY Arduino. In addition to in-person sessions with students in the Michigan Tech community, we have conducted online sessions for students in the Detroit area, and even students in the nation of Bahrain.

Our weekly instructional sessions are designed and led by Michigan Tech undergraduate students, who bring valuable perspectives on how to engage young people. The role of student instructor is tremendously rewarding and gives our undergraduates valuable experience in pedagogy and communication.

Collaborator: Leo Ureel (Computer Science / Cognitive & Learning Sciences). Supported by Detroit Area Pre-College Engineering Program, Google Tide of Funds Foundation, U.S. Department of State

The Clean Slate laws passed by the Michigan Legislature in 2020 allow past criminal convictions to be expunged, or shielded from public view in the context of criminal background checks. These laws, the most ambitious in the nation, can allow individuals to shed the burden of past convictions and lead productive lives. But the legal conditions under which a conviction may be expunged are complex and subject to multiple interpretations, leading to confusion and disempowerment among citizens who could benefit from expungement.

Our team is working on two fronts. First, we aim to better understand the difficulties faced by attorneys, judges, and ordinary citizens in understanding and applying the Michigan expungement statute. Second, we are developing an automated analysis tool to allow users to play out scenarios and ask "what if?" questions within the context of the statute. This tool, part of the larger work on Rules as Code, can play a key role in educating newcomers and ultimately allowing lawmakers to anticipate the consequences of the legislation they design.

Collaborators: Ali Ebnenasir (Computer Science), Susanna Peters (Social Sciences)

In the FEWCON project, a multi-institutional team of researchers in environmental science, social sciences, and computer science seek to understand the patterns and costs of food, energy, and water consumption at the household level in the United States, with the ultimate goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption through more mindful consumption. A major component of the project is a study conducted among 174 household study participants in Lake County, Illinois, an area selected to be representative of United States suburban populations from February 2020 to August 2021. A specific task to support the household experimental research was to develop a life cycle assessment (LCA) model quantifying direct and indirect environmental impacts from household food, energy, and water consumption. This FEW consumption-based life cycle assessment tool has been developed in conjunction with HomeTracker, an online household metabolism tracker application that allows researchers to answer questions about household consumption behavior and identify interventions that can be effective in reducing the environmental impacts of household consumption.

Through HomeTracker, study participants enter their grocery and restaurant receipt purchases, monthly water bills, monthly natural gas bills, and monthly electricity bills. Environmental impacts, including greenhouse gas emissions and water use, are calculated from this consumption, and feedback is provided to participants in a visual interface highlighting the environmental impact of their household consumption. In addition to utility and food data via HomeTracker, the study also included a series of surveys to capture socio-economic and demographic information, as well as beliefs, attitudes and self-reported behaviors related to food, energy, and water consumption. Purely by chance, the study commenced exactly at the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, providing a unique opportunity to observe shifts in household consumption behavior during the pandemic.

The FEWCON team is leveraging the LCA model developed for the study as part of a digital curriculum for middle school students to learn about the Food-Energy-Water nexus.

Collaborators: Jessica Daignault (Civil Engineering, Montana Tech), Robert Handler (Chemical Engineering), Chelsea Schelly (Social Sciences), David Watkins (Civil, Environmental, and Geospatial Engineering). Student researchers: Nichole Mackey, Prathyusha Sreedhara, Ethan Fournier. Supported by National Science Foundation awards CBET-1639342 and CBET-2031677

Continuous instruction and mentoring are essential but underemphasized components in our efforts to narrow the Digital Divide. Digital newcomers and other learners gain confidence and competence from personal, situated, interactive sessions with human tutors. Libraries and other community centers can provide means of access to this learning, but not all those in need have regular access to the physical locations of these institutions. Our goal is to reach learners in a ubiquitous fashion, whenever and wherever they need help.

Our project Illuminated Devices seeks to make the personal, interactive nature of a community-based tutoring program available anywhere, by connecting learners to tutors directly through common digital devices. Our Illuminated system has two components: the Illuminated Portal, and a social subsystem comprising the human tutors, community, procedures, and tasks associated with the tutoring program. The Illuminated Portal is a lightweight application that integrates video communication with a human tutor as well as access to common solutions that can help resolve problems independently. The Portal has a low barrier for access, requiring only a single button press to activate the device, connect to the internet, and initiate the Portal application and a face-to- face tutoring session therein. Once connected, the Portal will provide a continuous view of user activity across applications and convey tutor input to learners in a way that minimizes distraction and maximizes flow.

Collaborators: Kelly Steelman (Cognitive & Learning Sciences), Briana Bettin (Computer Science / Cognitive & Learning Sciences), Leo Ureel (Computer Science / Cognitive & Learning Sciences), Shelia Cotten (Provost's Distinguished Professor, Clemson). Student researchers: Kirk Thelen (Computer Science), Dana Pontious (Cognitive & Learning Sciences). Supported by National Science Foundation award BCS-2122034

Now more than ever, it is imperative for professionals in technological fields to critique and question the motivations and assumptions underlying (and materialized in) the products and services they create. Ethics education in engineering and computing contexts has the potential to disrupt certain pieties of STEM culture, and unexplored assumptions about epistemology and ethics itself, in constructive ways that help students become critically engaged in a manner essential for ethical reflection.

We identify our primary mission in the ethics classroom as one of defamiliarization: challenging assumptions about the world and technology through alternative frames and perspectives, broadening the concept of agency to integrate human and nonhuman agencies, reconceiving normative ethical theories as an array of alternative lenses, each with distinctive strengths and limitations, rather than straightforward applied solutions, and incorporating critical ethical reasoning into professional identity. We draw from phenomenology, philosophy of technology, and science and technology studies to broaden and enrich our students’ perspectives on technology by making it “strange”.

Collaborator: Alexandra Morrison (Humanities)

The word "robot" has been part of the human imagination for 101 years. We are celebrating this anniversary in fall 2022 with a series of events called ROBOT 101. Throughout the fall semester, there will be opportunities to learn about how faculty and student researchers at Michigan Tech are expanding the capabilities of robots, how people have used the idea of "robot" to explore what it means to be human, and how robots will change our world.

ROBOT101 activities include discussion of the 2021 novel Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro. Students in a number of courses will be reading Klara and sampling some supporting media and materials, and there will be opportunities for students outside these courses to participate as well. In early October, the Rozsa Center will show the 2022 film After Yang, which addresses similar themes to Klara. In conjunction with the screening, the writer Alexander Weinstein will visit to discuss his story "Saying Goodbye to Yang" on which After Yang is based. In mid-October, the Tech Theatre Company will perform the play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots) by Czech writer Karel Capek, which was first performed in 1921 and introduced the word "robot" to the world. Many of the themes we associate with robot-oriented science fiction can be found in this groundbreaking play. Visiting speakers Heather Love (Department of English, University of Waterloo) and Jindrich Toman (Slavic Studies, University of Michigan) will provide context for the play and perspectives on its relevance today, and other speakers from Michigan Tech and beyond will provide a wide variety of technical, artistic, and historical perspectives on robots.

Collaborators: Brett Hamlin (Engineering Fundamentals), Steven Walton (Social Sciences). Supported by State of Michigan King-Chavez-Parks Initiative

The number of sensors in use by the Navy will never decrease. With each advance in technology comes the cost of implementation and integration into previously matured systems vital to Naval tactical operations. The Universal Sensor Definition Schema is designed to consider and address modern communication needs in challenging environments, be those A) sensor-to-ship, B) ship-to-ship, C) ship-to-sat, or D) ship-to-shore/sat-to-shore. To improve the capacity to request, retrieve, and process information across the wider operational sensor systems including legacy sensor arrays and/or new sensor payloads, the project team will leverage their complimentary areas of expertise to develop and demonstrate the Universal Sensor Definition Schema (USDS) as a suite of API definitions and messaging algorithms to meet the long-term solution of unifying the sensor request interfaces.

Collaborators: Jason Summers (Applied Research in Acoustics, LLC). Student researchers: Elijah Cobb, Marcus Scese (Computer Science). Supported by SBIR award N68335-21-C-0187

Miniature, Eden Phillpotts

The grey beards wag, the bald heads nod,
And gather thick as bees,
To talk electrons, gases, God,
Old nebulae, new fleas.
Each specialist, each dry-as-dust
And professorial oaf,
Holds up his little crumb of crust
And cries, "Behold the loaf!"