Beginning Computer Science Education is Broken

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

Beginning Computer Science Education is Broken

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I’ve been reading the Institute for Personal Robots in Education Blog out of Georgia Tech lately. One of the more interesting and I think slightly provocative statements I’ve read recently comes from a recent post there.

It is now widely agreed in the CS education community that most current models of CS1/CS2 are broken.

A lot of people have been working on new ways to teach the first computer science courses at both the secondary school and university level. People generally don’t come right out and say things are broken though. Now I happen to agree with this statement. The way I have been saying it is that we are doing something wrong but that I don’t feel like I know what the right answer is.

The fact is that for too long we have had first programming courses that we designed to weed people out rather than draw them in. We’ve also gotten distracted by debates over what language to use, object first or second, and if we should use an IDE or not.

I’ve talked to people who say that the right language is the answer. Others say robotics, or multi-media, or perhaps game development. Or web development or mobile (pocket PCs, SmartPhones, etc) are the answer. I think that those things can help and maybe even help a lot. But we have to start with the curriculum and some basic understanding of what concepts we want students to learn and get a grip on the total desired outcomes. It sounds like that is the direction the Institute is going in so it will be interesting to follow developments there.

[By the way. I’m on vacation this week so this was written earlier for display later. Response to comments will be slow.]

  • At first, I was very defensive when I saw the title of this post, but when I read the post it made me feel optimistic. I agree that it has been broken, but I feel happy and excited that so many people are recognizing that and trying to solve the problem!

    Personally, I think the focus on programming *at all* is unfortunate. Yes, programming is certainly an important part of computer science, but I'd rather see more general "Introduction to Computer Science" courses and fewer "Introduction to Programming" CS1 classes. The CS1 "Intro to Programming" isn't much less damaging to our discipline than the "CS1" "Intro to Application Use"!

    Hope you're enjoying your vacation!
  • I think that a lot of people are looking in the right directions. The CS4HS workshop I attended a day of (it was two and a half days long and I wish I could have stayed for all of it) at CMU was outstanding. I'm very happy with the directions they are recommending at CMU.
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