The Future of Computing Education is beyond CS majors: Report from Snowbird #CSforAll
Last week, I attended the Computing Research Association (CRA) Snowbird conference of deans and chairs of computing. (See agenda here with slides linked.) I presented on a panel on why CS departments should embrace computing education research, and another on what CS departments can do to support the CS for All initiative. I talked in that second session about the leadership role that universities can play in creating state partnerships and influencing state policy (see the handout for my discussion table).
Andy Ko was in both sessions with me, and he’s already written up a blog post about his experiences, which match mine closely (including the feeling of being an imposter). I recommend reading his post.
Here, I’m sharing a key insight I saw and learned at Snowbird. Before the conference even started, our Senior Associate Dean for the College of Computing, Charles Isbell, challenged me to name another field that is overwhelmed with majors AND offers service courses to so many other majors. (Maybe biology because of pre-meds?) Computer Science is increasingly the provider of courses to non-CS majors, and those majors want something different than CS majors.
The morning of the first day was dedicated to the enrollment surge. CRA has been gathering data at many institutions on the surge, and Tracy Camp did a great job presenting some of the results. (Her slides are now available here, so you don’t have to rely on my pictures of her slides.) Here’s the bottomline: Student growth has been enormous (across different types of institutions), without a matching growth in faculty. The workload is increasing.
But here’s the surprise: Much of the growth in course enrollment is not CS majors. A large percentage of the growth is in other majors taking CS classes. The below graph is for “mid-level” CS courses, and there are similar patterns in intro and upper-level courses.
Tracy also presented a survey of students (slides available here), which was really fascinating. Below is a survey of (a lot) of intro students at several institutions. All the differences described are significant at p<0.05 (not 0.5 as it says). The difference in what non-majors want and CS majors was is interesting. Majors want (significantly more than non-majors) to “make a lot of money.” Non-majors more significantly want to “Give back to my community” and “Take time off work to care for family.”
U. Illinois has the most innovative program I have heard of for meeting these new needs. They are creating a range of CS+X degree programs. First, these CS+X programs are significant parts of the “X” departments.
But these stats blew me away: CS+X is now 30% of all of CS at U. Illinois (which is a top-5 CS department), and 50% of all admitted first years this year! And it’s 28% female.
It’s pretty clear to me that the future of computing education is as much about providing service to other departments as it is about our own CS major. We have suspected that the growth is in the non-majors for awhile, but now we have empirical evidence. I’ve been promoting the idea of contextualized-computing education, and the notion that other majors need a different kind of CS than what CS majors need. We need to take serious the education of non-CS majors in Computer Science.