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There was an interesting article in last week's Computer World about the changing face of computer science. Here are a few though provolking quotes from the article.
Chazelle: CS is the new "new math," and people are beginning to realize that. CS, like math, is unique in the sense that many other disciplines will have to adopt that way of thinking. It offers a sort of conceptual framework for other disciplines, and that's fairly new.
How can CS be made a more attractive choice for students?
Bryant: We should stop scaring them away. Predicting that all IT jobs will move offshore could become self-fulfilling. New jobs are growing faster than old jobs are moving offshore, and that trend will continue. We need to stop putting them to sleep. Students who take computer science classes in high school are taught how to write programs in Java, and their assignments have them writing code that does tedious things like sort lists of numbers. They do not learn about any of the big ideas of computer science.
Birman: We need to realize that we're losing a lot of students around Grade 10. So we need to revamp the way CS is taught in high school to focus much less on programming and much more on problem-solving and puzzles. Kids also need to work with things that are fun -- robot dogs that follow their owner around and growl at people who are wearing pink socks -- and do much less coding. Kids need to be grappling with information management issues, like the challenges of securely managing medical records and the legal and ethical issues that arise if we put monitoring systems in homes to keep an eye on the elderly, or in cars to provide emergency services.
There is a lot more there. It's all worth reading and thinking about. Are we teaching computer science correctly? In general I think not. If we were then we'd be getting more students excited about it. Computer science and bio-technology are the two areas with the most potential for changing the world and they way we live our lives today. And yet students see computer science as boring and irrelevant. Something is going wrong here.
Joe Hummel is offering a pair of .NET workshops for faculty at Lake Forest College this summer. There is a 2.5 day intro level workshop and a 2.5 day advanced level workshop. The registration fee for each track is $99.00. Attendees are also responsible for the cost of getting to and from Lake Forest College (40 miles due North of Chicago). All other costs (room, board, instruction) are covered through generous support from Microsoft Corporation. The main language of his examples will be C# but he will also demonstrate using Visual Basic .NET. So VB instructors will not be left out and they'll also get a chance to become familiar with C# which is rapidly gaining users in industry and academia both.
I've heard Joe train a number of times and I have used matterials he has developed to provide training myself and can attest to the high quality of his training. If you are looking for a workshop to help you come up to speed on the latest .NET training you will want to look into these workshops.
These days I have a lot of my conversations with teachers via MSN Messenger. It’s pretty easy to notice that someone is online and send a quick hello to see if they can talk. I try to keep my outgoing pings to when I really have something to say because I know that teachers are busy during the school day. And I’ve had the experience of a chat window opening during a demo and kids wanting to know “who is Roseann and does Mrs. Thompson know about her?” But honestly I love getting distracted from my own work. Working out of my home office I don’t get a lot of social time during the day where I can just chat with anyone. So when a teacher friend sends a “hello do you have a minute to chat” I generally am ready to chat.
Yesterday one chat with a teacher friend for Texas developed into a discussion about wanting to teach more than programming in a computer science course. There is a of course a lot more than just programming in computer science. While there isn’t a lot of time to cover as much as we’d like it would be nice to at least introduce some of the big issues that are not programming. Some of these are as much ethical and political as they are technical. Pat Phillips introduces one such topic in her blog this week.
The issue in question is the recent news about the NSA setting up a huge data mining operation to study phone calls made by Americans. This involves important technical issues to be sure. How do you set up a database like that? How do you search it and what sort of things do you look for? But there are clear ethical and political questions around privacy and Constitutionality as well.
Reality Check is a service at MainFunction that helps to facilitate this sort of big picture discussion. Each edition of Reality Check includes a topic, references to online news about the topic and questions that can be used in class or out of class to get students to think about important computer science issues of the day. If you want to take your students beyond programming I urge you to check it out.
BTW if you are a teacher who would like to chat via MSN Messenger my account there is email@example.com. Be sure to introduce yourself the first time you “call.”