Talk on Meeting Everyone’s Needs for Computing
I just gave a talk at Informatics Education Europe IV in Freiburg, Germany, on Meeting everyone’s need for computing: IEEIV-ComputingForAll-Oct2009-v5.ppt
My story in this talk is that we have a bigger computing education problem than just being concerned about the number and diversity of students who are majoring in computing or informatics. The “bigger” problem is the number of people who program and who want to learn more computer science, but who do not want to become CS majors or learn to be software engineers. A paper out of CMU predicts that we’ll have around 3 million software developers in the US in 2012, and about 13 million end-user programmers. There are four times as many people who will want to know some CS and some programming (from Brian Dorn’s graphics designers, to computational scientists and engineers, to high school teachers), but reject software engineering. I argue that we should care about them, too, and that approaches like Media Computation will reach and help these audiences.
The questions went on and on, eating up 10 minutes of our coffee break. The part that got people stirred up was, “Are you giving up on getting women into software engineering?” and “Don’t you think we need software engineers, too?!?” And of course, I agree, we desperately need software engineers and more diversity in computing — that’s what I’m focusing on in “Georgia Computes!” However, I really do believe that we are missing an opportunity to have impact and to improve the world, if we don’t also teach those people who want computing, but do not want to be professional software engineers.
There were also questions about implications of this model. “Are you suggesting whole new degree programs, to ‘hide’ the informatics or computing?” I said that I wasn’t about “hiding” anything, and while we are finding that new degree programs like Computational Media are successful, I mostly see the need for new classes. “Do you design contextualized computing from the careers back, or from student perceptions forward?” We started from the former, but shifted to the latter. The problem is that students don’t really know what their careers are really about. When we talk to engineering students about modeling differential equations in code, they don’t really believe us — they themselves don’t know what engineers do with code. So we end up having to explain to them what the career choices they’ve made are, what practitioners in that field really do.
I’ve been asked to blog the conference on Blog@CACM. I’ll link back here.