Computer Science Teacher
Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

January, 2006

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    What are assignments all about?

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    I ran into an interesting blog entry yesterday by a university student. In it he bemoans the attitude of some of his peers regarding assignments that are too complex. This student has, I think, the right idea.

    For me, I personally feel that Assignments/Projects are the training grounds for you to really experiment new stuff and learn. It's extremely important to learn when you're in school and make mistakes. What did we pay school fees for? Right? Its to LEARN!

    As teachers one of the main reasons we assign projects, homework and give exams is of course to see what students know and to give them grades. And grades are important - or so I am told. But I like to think that the assignments I gave were first and formost learning experiences. In many of my courses I used to assign complex projects rather than giving a final exam. These assignments involved, as much as possible, a compilation of all of the matterial covered in the course. I like to think that as a grading tool they were effective in judging how much of the matterial had been learned well enough to use to impliment something complex. What I also found, and what a lot of students over the years confirmed, was that a major project like this was a learning experience.

    Student after student told me that they never really understook how thing "fit together" until they were used together in a complex project. During the course of a semester we focus on small pieces of the whole. We have to because students, especially younger students, can only grasp smaller pieces at a time. During this phase we assign mostly small, simple projects that exercise the current concept under discussion. This works as a teaching/learning tool but it somewhat artifical in programming. Most programming efforts are larger and more complex. Sooner or later people need to work on a large project. The Advanced Placement Computer Science exam, taken by some 20,000 high school computer science students each year, uses a large case study for this purpose. The case study is the first introduction to a larger more complex project for many students.

    If a school has a programming course before APCS (and I think they should if only to get more students interested in programming) there is generally no similar large project. Unless there is a semester project that wraps everything together. If I were to have one recommendation to high school CS teachers teaching a first course I would recommend that they use a large semester project in place of a final exam. Let students experience a larger project.

    One last thing. The Project Hoshimi Programming Battle may be a good complex project (or case study) for some students. Pat Phillips at her Editor's Corner has an introduction to a number of teaching objects that can be used with this contest by teachers who want to teach with a case study. Check it out.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Booth babes and the role of women in computer science

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    Thirty some years ago I went to a large computer show on a field trip of sorts from college. At the end of the first day we were comparing notes and someone said “what I learned today was that the women working the booths don’t know anything.” This was very surprising to us but we all agreed it was true.

    We had women in our computer classes and were pretty much believers in men and women being equal in computer science. After all we guys had to work as hard to keep up with the women as we did each other. There was no thinking about computers being a guy thing. It never occurred to us. We had Grace Murray Hopper visit campus and spend a lot of time talking to us students. She was an inspiration and really you could not spend any time with her and not believe that computers knew no gender bias.

    So when we attended out first computer show we assumed that anyone working a booth, male or female, would be able to answer our questions. When we realized that the women at the booths were for decoration and to attract an audience we were shocked. Things have changed since then. But not for the better. There are fewer women in computer science classes for one thing. For another the use of attractive women to bring people, ok men, to booths has gotten extreme at some shows. It really scares me the message the use of “booth babes” sends to kids.

    Today “booth babes”, scantily clad women whose only purpose at a booth is decoration, have gotten out of hand at some conferences. I read recently that the Electronic Entertainment Expo has banned “scantily clad women” from booths. Computer shows are, I don’t think, that bad yet. At least I hope not. The major vendors, Microsoft, IBM, Apple, HP and Dell for example, do not seem to employ “booth babes.” I’ve found the women at their booths to be as technical as the men. Very often the women at Microsoft booths that I have worked with are running the company presence there.

    It is the smaller companies who need some extra attention that seem to employ women for appearance over knowledge. But I think they do us all a disservice when they do so. The idea is insulting to men as well as to women. How does a girl who sees this sort of thing view her own chances of being taken seriously? How does a boy who sees this think about women in the workplace? How is any of this good for anyone?

    Serious companies treat women equally with men at the office. They should do so at shows and conferences as well. I think that men should start boycotting booths that employee “booth babes.” Maybe if we do that the companies who use them will realize that people go to shows to learn things not to ogle chicks. And we’d also be sending a message that we want women to be taken seriously in technical fields.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Job Statistics

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    One of my co-workers, Sam Stokes, put together a list of statistics about job projections in the US IT industry. I've copied a bunch of them here. Links to the origional data is supplied so you can see the details for yourself.

    Computer software engineers, applications

    • Number of jobs in 2004 was                                                               460,000
    • Number of jobs predicted in 2014 will be                                          682,000
    • Increase                                                                                               222,000
    • Percent Increase by 2014  (Increase of jobs/jobs in 2004*100)          48.4%

    Computer software engineers, systems software

    • Number of jobs in 2004 was                                                               340,000
    • Number of jobs predicted in 2014 will be                                          486,000
    • Increase                                                                                               146,000
    • Percent Increase by 2014 (Increase of jobs/jobs in 2004*100)           43%

    Computer systems analysts

    • Number of jobs in 2004 was                                                               487,000
    • Number of jobs predicted in 2014 will be                                          640,000
    • Increase                                                                                               153,000
    • Percent Increase by 2014 (Increase of jobs/jobs in 2004*100)           31.4%

    Computer Scientists and Database Administrators

    • Number of jobs in 2004 was                                                               104,000
    • Number of jobs predicted in 2014 will be                                          144,000
    • Increase                                                                                               40,000
    • Percent Increase by 2014 (Increase of jobs/jobs in 2004*100)           38.2%

    Network and computer systems administrator

    • Number of jobs 2004 is                                                                       278,000
    • Number of jobs predicted in 2014 will be                                          385,000          
    • Increase                                                                                               107,000
    • Percent Increase by 2014 (Increase of jobs/jobs in 2004*100)           38.4%
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