Desperate need for more expertise in computing, across sectors

February 29, 2012 at 7:18 am 8 comments

The argument below for more computing education is a bit different from the most common one.  Yes, industry needs more computer scientists and engineers, so we need to draw more people into those fields.  Starting in high school (and earlier) is important because students are getting turned off to computing careers as early as middle school (see Yardi & Bruckman, ICER 2007), so we need to give them a chance to see real computing earlier so that they can give it a fair consideration.

But this piece in Education Week (thanks to John Pane for pointing it out to me!) is also arguing that “all sectors” are “demanding more and more expertise in computing.”  Even if you’re not going to become a professional software developer, your field is going to need you to know more about computing. We should do this in K-12, then.  This is really an argument for computing for everyone.  Yes!

“The demand by industry is far greater than supply. Its not just Google and Microsoft. Its all sectors: health care, transportation, manufacturing. Every sector is demanding more and more expertise in computing.” Private companies say they are developing programs to mentor students and sustain interest in computer science and engineering.

via Education Week: Educators, Innovators Call for Earlier Introduction to Computer Science.

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SIGCSE 2012 is this week in Raleigh! Implications of CS-as-Business in High School for one Georgia county

8 Comments Add your own

  • […] their certification — budgets are too tight, so that requirement has been dropped.)  Despite the calls for more CS, CS is getting short shrift in this deal. Share […]

  • 2. Ian Bogost  |  February 29, 2012 at 8:49 am

    This reminds me of a question I’ve been meaning to ask you Mark. What degree of expertise should be the goal of a broadened CS ed? We often say that everyone should possess other literacies, like writing and speaking, but of course in reality most never rise above the basics (excellent, professional writing and speaking is hard and not for everyone).

    Broadened CS education efforts are sometimes accused of “dumbing down” CS for general consumption, and admittedly it seems unreasonable to expect generalists to be specialists, or casual computational creators to be professional ones. But what practical result should we set to meet goals like the one you post here?

    • 3. Mark Guzdial  |  February 29, 2012 at 10:38 am

      It’s a great question, Ian, and I don’t have a pithy 140 character response. Laura’s answer is interesting, as is the CS:Principles effort. “Dumbing down” is a perjorative term which suggests a particular interpretation (e.g., is it “global warming” or just “climate change”?). What’s taught to everyone will be less than what we teach to specialists, as you point out, but I’m not convinced that we are successful in teaching specialists what we think we’re teaching them. If we taught everyone in such a way that they really learn something, it will likely be much less than what we currently teach CS majors. On the other hand, if we start much earlier (in grades 6-12), then perhaps we can teach more, amortized over time.

      • 4. Ian Bogost  |  February 29, 2012 at 1:50 pm

        I definitely agree that language like “dumbing down” enforces a particular verbal frame. I don’t believe that position myself, but at the same time, it might be good to have a different frame for “dumbing down” that describes it in positive terms, i.e., teaching the right kind and amount of CS for different goals.

        Regarding starting much earlier… correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t there a tacit assumption in traditional CS that students will have started earlier (perhaps precisely in grades 6-12) by some means? Put differently, does “traditional CS” already assume that college students will have figured out computing on their own?

        • 5. Mark Guzdial  |  February 29, 2012 at 2:04 pm

          Last time I was involved in surveying the intro students coming into GT, most CS students had some “computing” in high school, but that might be Web design. Less than 30% had AP CS. Less than half had ever programmed before starting in CS. So, no, I don’t believe that the intro courses in CS at GT assume that most college students have figured things out on their own.

          • 6. Ian Bogost  |  February 29, 2012 at 3:28 pm

            Got it. Thanks Mark.

  • 7. allenderl  |  February 29, 2012 at 10:13 am

    The skills I see that are needed across companies are not always the skills typically taught in traditional CS.

    Most people in business need to be able to know enough to:
    1) build a startups website (html, javascript, wordpress, etc)
    2) manage technical projects
    3) understand webhosting/application hosting technologies
    4) know a bit about network/hardware management
    5) understand the technical problem solving process
    6) know a suite of business tools (word processing, etc)
    7) know how to effectively use collaborative technologies (skype, webmeeting) for communication working with distributed teams
    8) know how to estimate technical project costs
    9) design and specify a user interface/website

    For development roles, most developers need to have cross language skills in a suite of web development languages and tools. Understanding web and cloud architectures is essential. For example, build an android application that talks to amazon web services. Build a website that integrates with Facebook. Build a taxi management system that has custom hardware, web transactions, gps tracking, etc. The breadth of knowledge required is astounding. The most important thing for one’s long term career is to be able to acquire skills in the latest technologies, and learning to refresh one’s career on a biennial basis. Additionally, those folks who want to lead or manage projects sometime in their life, need to be able to adapt like this, plus do all of the basic skills above.

    In a way, as much as technical know how is needed, it is the liberal arts skills of problem solving, self-direction, and independent thinking that create a successful long term career.

  • 8. Kim Wilkens (@kimxtom)  |  March 14, 2012 at 7:29 am

    I work with students in K-8 and what they all have in common is a desire to create, so that’s where I start with them when using tools like Scratch, NetLogo & Alice. I don’t teach them programming per se, but let them naturally find challenges they want to overcome like how to keep score or get characters interacting. Is that dumbing down programming? I recently watched Bret Victor’s “Inventing on Principle” presentation. It really got me thinking about what computer science should be about. Does CS currently target/attract people who are really good at keeping track of what a computer would do in their head? I’ve recently started working with students from low income families and have found that they generate creative ideas for their programs, but demonstrate less self-efficacy with the tools needed to create their programs. Bret’s talk made me realize that the tools really shouldn’t have this kind of power over the students’ ideas and it makes me wonder in how many other ways the tools, methodologies or pedagogies used in teaching computer science inhibit students’ potential to create.


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