Dr. Mats Daniels and the TTT Grook
Mats Daniels defended his thesis at Uppsala University this last week (Hooray!). I received a copy of his thesis document in the mail yesterday. Mats has been a longtime contributor to CS Education, and has been working on his doctorate for a long time, a period measured in double-digit numbers of years.
Mats maintains a mailing list to whom he mails a weekly Grook, and his grook for this last week was also the one that he ended his thesis with, reflecting his history with this document:
Put up in a place
where it’s easy to see
the cryptic admonishment
When you feel how depressingly
slow you climb,
it’s well to remember that
Things Take Time.
The need for pop culture, paperback computer science: When I was a student in high school and undergraduate, many of my classes also required us to read some mass culture paperback that connected to the class. I remember reading Future Shock for a high school class, and Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle in an undergraduate Engineering class (to lead into a discussion about unexpected effects of technological advances). My daughter just read Dragons of Eden for her high school science class.
Many (maybe even most? all?) areas of science have books written for the the educated-but-not-specialist reader about topics in that area. These books aren’t textbooks, and they are not surveys of the whole field. They are a slice, written in approachable (though not necessarily simple) prose. They can be useful to assign in a class to get students to think about a perspective on the course that might not come up otherwise, and to feed into discussions.
Where are the popular culture, paperback books on computer science? There are a few. Danny Hillis’ The Patterns in the Stone meets the definition. James Gleick’s new book The Information (once it becomes “paperback”) may serve that role. Almost no books like this actually contain code or describe algorithms. Do any of us CS educators actually assign these books in class and then discuss them?
We need books like these–and maybe not just “books” but also bits of software, simulations, videos, electronic books, and active essays. We need media that are aimed at the educated-but-not-specialist reader with approachable prose (and other modalities), that are not textbooks, that don’t aim to cover the whole field, that describe a particular slice or perspective on computer science, and that could be assigned in a CS class for breadth and to spur discussion. We need a lot of media like this, as much as has been written like this about mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics, and other disciplines.
If we want to take our place in the popular culture, we have to make the same contributions of ideas to the broad public and provide accessible media. It’s the slow path into permeating our culture the way that other disciplines do. T.T.T.