Universities Retool Computer Science
The number of new computer science majors has steadily
declined since 2000, falling from close to 16,000 students to only 7,798 in fall
2006. And the downward trend isn't expected to reverse soon. About 1 percent of
incoming freshmen have indicated computer science as a probable major, a 70
percent drop in the numbers from 2000.
The lesson plan was called "Artificial Unintelligence," but it was written more
like a comic book than a syllabus for a serious computer science class.
"Singing, dancing and drawing polygons may be nifty, but any self-respecting
evil roboticist needs a few more tricks in the repertoire if they are going to
take over the world," read the day's instructions to a dozen or so Georgia Tech
robotics students. They had spent the last few months teaching their personal
"Scribbler" robots to draw shapes and chirp on command. Now they were being
asked to navigate a daunting obstacle course of Girl Scout cookie boxes
scattered over a grid.
The course is aimed at reigniting interest in computer science among
undergraduates. Educators at Georgia Tech and elsewhere are turning to
innovative programs like the Scribbler to draw more students to the field and
reverse the tide of those leaving it.
At risk, professors say, is nothing less than U.S. technology supremacy. As
interest in computer science drops in the U.S., India and China are emerging as
engineering hubs with cheap labor and a skilled work force.
Schools across the country are taking steps to broaden the appeal of the
major. More than a dozen universities have adopted "media computation" programs,
a sort of alternate introduction to computer science with a New Media vibe. The
classes, which have been launched at schools from the University of San
Francisco to Virginia Tech, teach basic engineering using digital art, digital
music and the Web.
Others are turning to niche fields to attract more students. The California
Institute of Technology, which has seen a slight drop in undergraduate computer
science majors, has more than made up for the losses by emphasizing the field of
"Many of our computer science faculty work on subjects related to biology,
and so this new thrust works well for us," said Joel Burdick, a Caltech
At Georgia Tech, computing professor Tucker Balch says the brain drain is
partly the fault of what he calls the "prime number" syndrome.
It's the traditional way to teach computer science students by asking them to
write programs that spit out prime numbers, the Fibonacci sequence or other
It's proven a sound way to educate students dead-set on joining the ranks of
computer programmers, but it's also probably scared away more than a few.
That's why Balch, who oversees the robotics class, is optimistic about the
Scribbler, a scrappy blue robot cheap enough for students to buy and take home
each night after class but versatile enough to handle fairly complex programs.
Read full article at NewsFactor Network
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|Tech News:||Updated: February 2008|