Sunday, February 21, 2010

More Curriculum Musings

I've been making a bunch of comments on Computer Science education lately. The New York Times has an excellent article about "Making Computer Science More Enticing" which focuses on Stanford's new curriculum. The Stanford curriculum is very similar to IU's new specialization-based curriculum and seems to be an excellent approach to "teaching the discipline".

Also, I found the "definitive" document on CS education - The ACM/IEEE Computing Curriculum 2008 Update [PDF].

Why so much focus on education? Computer Science is a (relatively) new discipline with a multitude of high-impact applications, giving us an imperative to train students quickly. Unfortunately, the speed at which our field is moving can cause us to lose sight of the philosophy behind the science.

If someone wants to learn Biology, you would point them to Campbell & Reece. If someone wants to learn computation, where do you point them? A list of books. There are books focused on introducing algorithms and functional programming (SICP); there are tomes focused on general computation (Knuth); there are books focused on application (the entire O'Reilly library); there are definitive texts on specific languages (The C Programming Language, The Scheme Programming Language); there does not seem to be a widely-accepted, integrative introduction that emphasizes computation -- algorithms and models. From what I'm observing in CS curricula across the country, the coursework is moving in this direction, but we still need this cohesive "Introduction to Computing" book.

As a final message, this video linked in the NYT article captures the beauty, richness and excitement of our discipline right now -- "It's sort of like you're geometers and you're living in the time of Euclid":