Computer Science: Subject-specific guidance
An extended essay (EE) in computer science provides students with an opportunity to investigate a particular aspect of computing and its implications for society and the world.
Within this context, they can research the latest developments and future possibilities in a rapidly changing subject that is continually breaking new barriers. There are many possible areas to be explored, each with a wealth of topics: advances in hardware and software development, comparison of the efficiency of algorithms designed to speed up data transmission or to encrypt data, network systems, computer control systems and so on.
Choice of topic
It is important that the chosen topic and its treatment reflect a firm emphasis on computing science and explores beneath the surface of this subject.
It is also important that the work goes beyond a summary of journalistic views on a particular topic. It is not sufficient for the student simply to describe new advances and developments in computing. Students are expected to analyse their findings and consider the implications.
Often, the ethical and social effects of the topic chosen will be important and may well have a part within the essay, for example in the conclusion. However, an essay that makes these considerations a major focus is not appropriate and would be better submitted as an information technology in a global society (ITGS) essay.
An in-depth analysis of trends and advances in computing should include aspects of the theory of computer science, which would necessarily demonstrate a high degree of technical knowledge and understanding.
Data for analysis may be generated from a program written by the student. This is often an appropriate method of investigation, but the code itself, and its development, will not be rewarded under the assessment criteria unless the specific techniques employed are of particular relevance to the research question.
The EE is not in any way to be confused with the computer science project that is completed as the internal assessment component for the computer science course. If the data analysed is not directly related to computer science, the EE should be registered in another, more relevant, subject.
The chosen topic may be inspired by a magazine article, an internet site, one of the case studies published in connection with computer science HL paper 3 examinations, a conversation or simply an idea that could fall into one of the following areas of interest:
- aspects of the current computer science syllabus that are taken to a far greater depth than that provided in the course
- current aspects of computing that are set to change or be challenged in the near future
- future developments that are currently experimental but beginning to look possible
- solutions to limitations that are evident in current hardware or software
- comparisons between different computer systems that are actually in place.
The topic chosen should allow the student to make a full appropriate analysis, putting forward his or her own point of view.
Historical aspects of computing do not lend themselves to this treatment.
However, there may sometimes be a place for summarizing developments that have occurred until now, to put the topic in perspective or to use as a basis for predicting the future.
Availability of resources should be a consideration when deciding on a topic. The student should not choose to investigate a complex computing topic for which they have little or no access to appropriate background material or resources.
Examples of topics
These examples are just for guidance. Students must ensure their choice of topic is focused (left-hand column) rather than broad (right-hand column).
|Focused topics||Broad topics|
|A comparison of overclocking and pipelining in terms of efficiency in enhancing the performance of CMOS processors||Factors that affect processor speeds|
|Advances in processing power that question the need for complicated sorting algorithms||The future of sorting algorithms|
|Assessing the level of data compression in music files that is acceptable to the human ear||Data compression techniques|
|An evaluation of secure sockets layer (SSL) protocol||Internet security|
It may help for the student to start with a broad topic or area of interest, then undertake some initial secondary research before refining their topic into a more focused area and developing a preliminary research question.
Additionally, adding a statement of intent that indicates which broad process is going to be used in answering the question will help to ensure students remain focused on their research question.