May 19, 2005

Revitalizing Computing Science Education

An article from the most recent Computer (v38i5) by Qusay H. Mahmoud, Revitalizing Computing Science Education is a very stimulating read. The core of Mahmoud's thesis is that the decline in CS enrollments actually has many reasons. For example, he points out that CS grads aren't actually having any more problems than some other science grads getting jobs. Also, the enrollments and job situation isn't as bad in Europe and Australia as in North America so off-shoring mustn't be the only issue driving enrollments down or they would be similarly affected.

His reasons for the decline basically boil down to two things: image and image. Image in the sense that everyone thinks CS is only about programming, so someone not interested in programming would automatically not be interested in CS. Image also in the sense that the public thinks that the job market is saturated when in fact there continues to be lots of opportunities. Some of Mahmoud's suggestions are:

  • Offer multidisciplinary and crossdisciplinary programs. This would take advantage of hot fields such as bioinformatics.
  • Fix CS's image. In the sense that computing isn't only programming but can encompass a wide range of activities, some even involving interaction with other humans.
  • Move towards a Bachelor of Arts program. This would give students greater latitude in setting up their programs of study.
  • Increase women's enrollment.
  • Train high school CS teachers. Get 'em young.
  • Make CS courses fun. This will attract a wider range of students and make it easier to retain them

1 comment:

Jane said...

I totally agree with all of your points here. I think getting them in high school is really key, though....get them hooked before they get to college, and then they'll be less intimidated.

One of the problems we're seeing at my school is that our intro course is 50-50 women-men, but the drop-off between the first course and the second course is dramatic. (The last time I taught the second course in the sequence, the class was 10% women. The semester/term before that, we had 2 intro section that were both 50-60% women.) We're working hard on this problem, but it's very disheartening. We're making our courses fun, experimenting with crossdisciplinary assignments....but that "geek image" is keeping people away in droves.