Archive for January 13, 2011

Beth Simon on why everyone should take computing

As you might recall, Beth Simon has been teaching one of the new AP CS pilot courses.  She decided to update her course materials for the second offering, and to explicitly make an argument for why students should take this course.  She makes a really interesting case (backed up with quotes from students from the first offering) for why a general introduction to computer science is useful to all majors. I am quoting from her materials, with her permission.

What does this course offer to you?
In this course, you will gain the basic level of understanding of computers and computation that we think ALL college graduates should have – to be prepared to create the future.  Last century, competence was defined by the three Rs: reading, writing and arithmetic.  They are required to pursue a professional career in any discipline.  This is the 21st century, and it’s clear that computing is poised to permeate not only our professional work, but also our society. So think of understanding and skills of computing as a fourth ‘R’, necessary for any discipline.  After this class, you will stand out from other college graduates in your preparation to work with new technologies of the future.

Students who previously took the course described some of the following things they got out of it:

  • Confidence: “It has given me confidence that I’m able to figure things out on a computer that I never would have thought that I could do.”
  • View of Technology: “Now, every time I find myself playing a video game, I actually understand what makes it work.  That these games are not magically produced, that it takes time, skill, and sufficient funds to create these games.  I appreciate these games more than before taking this class.”
  • Analysis Skills: “Programming allows a person to think more logically, thinking in order and debugging allows the user to gain valuable problem solving skills.  Aspiring to go to law school, thinking logically is extremely important and I think this has helped.”
  • Communication Skills: “In today’s technologically-centered world, using a program like Alice gives us valuable exposure to discussing things technically with other people and explaining clearly what we are trying to do.”
  • Organizational Skills: “Through Alice, I learned to stay organized and structured in anything I do, including studying for other classes.  Although at first, thinking with several concepts at a time was very difficult, now I am more confident.”

How, exactly, are you going to accomplish this?
By learning to control the computer through a basic programming language, you will get the opportunity to develop skills that will enable you to deal with general issues on the computer – in any area.  Why do you have to “learn to program”, when you may never program again in your life?  Programming is actually the simplest manner in which to deal with a computer.  Comparably, other applications you use (Photoshop, Word, Facebook, Picasa, etc.) are much more complex.  We want you to start with a simpler model, one more in your control, to gain the basic understanding of how computers work. At the end of the term, you’ll then explore one application – Excel –  to practice applying your new knowledge in a specific context. Then, in the future, no matter what new application you use, you can apply that knowledge to figuring it out and making it work for you.

January 13, 2011 at 9:09 am 13 comments

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