Archive for June 20, 2010

Skip college to study computing?

This interesting piece in the NYTimes highlights the growing number of jobs that do not require a formal college degree.  Paul Goodman wrote about this in Compulsory Miseducation in the late 1960’s — that we increasingly require college degrees where they really aren’t necessary, and by forcing everyone down one path, we do many students and our society a disservice.

“It is true that we need more nanosurgeons than we did 10 to 15 years ago,” said Professor Vedder, founder of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, a research nonprofit in Washington. “But the numbers are still relatively small compared to the numbers of nurses’ aides we’re going to need. We will need hundreds of thousands of them over the next decade.”

And much of their training, he added, might be feasible outside the college setting.

College degrees are simply not necessary for many jobs. Of the 30 jobs projected to grow at the fastest rate over the next decade in the United States, only seven typically require a bachelor’s degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

via Plan B – Skip College – NYTimes.com.

What does this mean for computing education?  I’ve been thinking about this while reviewing chapters of Brian Dorn’s thesis.  His graphics designers value computing education highly, but don’t value College computer science classes at all.  They don’t see that we’re offering what they’re needing.

Should we have non-College paths for computing specialists?  I think that we already do, but perhaps we could use these alternative paths to develop expertise and avoid the confounds in our discussion of computing education.  We often struggle with creating deep thinkers, or skilled practitioners.  Those aren’t necessarily the same thing, and given the hours it takes to develop expertise, it may not be possible to generate both at scale.  In his work on the Great Principles of Computing, Peter Denning has pointed out that our current computing education system does a poor job of creating the experts, the master programmers.  Posters in recent discussions on the SIGCSE members list have emphasized that our current system is well set up for creating “software engineers.”  That’s not necessarily the master craftspeople that Peter is describing.  What would we do differently if our goals were to create the master craftspeople?  Would these master craftspeople be more highly valued and avoid some of the Geek shortage vs. layoffs that we’ve described here?

Could we produce these skilled programmers in our current college settings, or should we create a different path?  Richard Gabriel has argued for an “MFA in Software,” suggesting that we should create master programmers in the way that we create master artists.  In the MFA world, the education would still happen in college, but it wouldn’t have to.  We might create Plan B’s that better serve our students and our society’s needs, without involving colleges.

June 20, 2010 at 5:26 pm 12 comments


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