TITLE: You Don't Want to Program? AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: August 20, 2004 2:05 PM DESC: new majors and applied computing ----- BODY: Yesterday I blogged about programming. Today, I advised severally newly-declared computer science majors. Not a single one of them wants to learn to program. Most want to take our new Network and System Administration major. Others are interested in bioinformatics or other applied areas. Some of these incoming freshmen know that they have to do a certain amount of programming in order to reach their goals, and they're okay with that. They'll humor us along the way. But others seemed genuinely concerned that we expect them to learn how to program before teaching them how to set up Windows networks and troubleshoot systems -- so much so that they immediately began to explore their alternatives at the university. I read occasionally about problems with science and mathematics education in the United States, but I wonder if any discipline is quite like computer science. We go through cycles of having an incredibly popular major followed by having a major that few students want to take. But at no time do very many of our students come with the slightest inkling of what computer science is or the role that programming plays in it. We seem to start with a student body that has no idea what they are in for. Some students must feel sideswiped when the truth hits them. This state of affairs helps to explain why intro CS courses have rather high drop rates compared to similar courses in other departments. The university should consider this when comparing numbers. What can we do about this? The move toward "breadth-first" curricula a decade ago aimed to address this problem, and I think such an approach has some benefits. (It also has some drawbacks.) But it would perhaps be better if we could address the problem earlier, if we could somehow expose high school students to a more accurate view of computing beyond the applications they see and use in so many contexts. Computing is a fundamental component of the modern world, yet it is still largely a mystery to the public at large. This fall, I hope to teach a six-week unit on computing concepts at my daughters' school, to sixth graders. Maybe I can get a feeling for what is possible then. But, here in the trough of our enrollment cycle, encounters like the one I had this morning spook me. -----