Jim Harper

Associate Professor of Computer Science

“I strongly believe that curriculum must drive technology, not technology drive the curriculum.”

Jim Harper graduated from Henderson State University in 1987 with a degree in computer science.

In less than a year, he returned to Henderson to teach what he had learned at his alma mater.

Almost 30 years later, Harper serves as computer science coordinator at Henderson, a title he has held since 2008.

Harper attributes the strength of Henderson’s computer science program to the dedication of its faculty.

“The program has a well-experienced and caring faculty who continuously strive to better serve the students,” Harper said. “While teaching classes within an ever-changing discipline, faculty always attempt to stay current with new technologies and pedagogies.

“The program is small, both in number of faculty and number of students, which allows it to provide a more personable and nurturing environment.”

In the classroom, Harper seeks common ground with his students.

“To advance a student’s learning opportunity and to provide an environment where that student feels free to express him or herself, I attempt to communicate with that student from some common ground,” he said. “I believe that one learns by taking small steps from a position known to be true.

“With each step, further knowledge is acquired and additional steps can then be taken. By using this process, a student can progress, independently, toward a workable solution to a question.”

Harper said he believes it is often useful to provide learning opportunities where students work in groups to achieve an overall result.

“This particular method fosters collaboration and, in many instances, a form of desirable competition among the students and groups,” he said.

After earning his undergraduate degree at Henderson, Harper worked as a programmer/analyst for Arkansas Systems Inc. in Little Rock before returning to teach as an adjunct instructor. He earned his M.S. in computer science from the University of Oklahoma in 1989, and an A.B.D. in computer science from Colorado State University in 1995.

Harper was honored as Outstanding Faculty Advisor in 2015, and in 2010, he received the Assessment Excellence Award. In 2006, Harper was presented a Faculty Excellence Award for Teaching.

Harper said he wants students to think for themselves. To achieve that goal, he emphasizes open classroom discussions, directed lab exercises, and one-on-one deliberations in the office.

“I believe that while a student is ultimately responsible for his or her own learning, it is the instructor’s responsibility to foster an environment that is constructive to the learning process,” Harper said. “I also strongly encourage students to discuss homework and programming projects with each other, especially in the design stages, but demand that each provide their own individualized solution to a problem.”

Harper said many students measure their success by their ability to acquire a good job, and they feel better prepared if they have received hands-on experience in areas of practical technology.

“I attempt to include students in my exploration of new technology and in the implementation of technology in our program,” he said. “Whether it is through setting up network servers and firewalls, the design of custom software, or the routine day-to-day maintenance of the computing facilities in the program, I attempt to include students as much as possible.”

Critical thinking is another key component of Harper’s classroom strategies.

“It is through critical thinking that we enable students to pursue lifelong learning,” he said. “This is most critical in technology-related areas since the pace at which technology advances is so rapid.

“Students, graduates, and instructors all must constantly update their knowledge and skills if they do not wish to become obsolete. By stressing problem solving skills rather than just answering questions, I attempt to enhance the student’s ability to remain current.”

Harper said the most satisfying aspect of his job is watching students succeed and being a “small part” of that success. 

“While students often struggle when exposed to new ideas and theories, helping them to work through these concepts is very rewarding in that I know that I contributed to their personal and professional growth that will lead to their further success in their careers,” he said.

If he hadn’t pursued computer science as career path, Harper said he would have probably chosen electrical engineering or architecture.

“I thoroughly enjoy the logic and design aspects of computer science and would be able to apply these components to either of these two fields,” he said.

Harper said he enjoys woodworking, especially furniture and cabinet making.

“To some extent, there is a bit of overlap with technology in that I enjoy not only the building of the projects, but also their design with CAD software.”

Mathematics and Computer Science

Contact Info:

Degree and School:
A.B.D. in Computer Science, Colorado State University

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