More Universities Should Teach Computer Science and Not be Shut Down

December 5, 2012 at 9:33 am 2 comments

Following the announced restructuring of the University of Florida CS program and this classic quote about how Yale shouldn’t be in the business of teaching “trade skills” (meaning, applied software engineering), I’m going to argue that more (not all, but more) academic computer science programs should be shut down or reorganized.

via More Universities Should Shut Down Their Computer Science Programs | Jeffrey McManus.

That’s an interesting claim. Unfortunately, the argument isn’t very convincing..

1. Most undergraduates and professionals actually want to learn applied software engineering, not “computer science.” So? That’s not all that industry most wants to hire. That’s not what society most needs.

2. University undergraduates are not discriminating consumers of education. Agreed, which again gets back to why we would care (in Step #1) that that’s what undergraduates think that they want.

3. It should not be necessary for two universities located within commuting distance of each other to have the same academic department. I guess it depends on how large you can make the classrooms and how effective the teachers are at motivating large groups of students to reach completion. Part of the growth of universities has been spurred on by increased demand. I’m not sure how this statement fits into the overall argument.

4. Applied software engineering is a discipline that lends itself to being effectively taught online. Definitely an intriguing claim, but I’m not sure that I agree. Really good software engineering is a design activity, which is best learned in a reflective apprenticeship setting — the kind of high-bandwidth communication that we can’t do yet well on-line. Further, online learning is still hard to do with multiple modalities (yes, you can watch a video, but you can’t read the screen well; and the tools to provide audio narration for clearly-readable code are still developing), and there’s evidence to believe that multiple modalities are key to learning to read code well.

5. Most university computer courses simply aren’t that good if your goal is to get a job doing applied software engineering. I might be willing to agree here, but it’s not clear (a) that we should be teaching only applied software engineering in universities, (b) that students most need applied software engineering, and (c) that it’s not better for everyone (industry, society, students) to aim to teach CS better.

6. University academic departments in general should have limited charters and should be reorganized frequently. That’s another interesting claim, and one I might support, but still doesn’t seem connected to the argument that University CS departments should be shut down.

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