real computing literacy—which isn’t
about using applications, and is about
what is possible with a computer.
There are arguments that we can give
students for numeracy and textual literacy. They need those things to survive in
the world, because numeracy and textual literacy is pervasive in our society. But
even without the pervasiveness, we can
make arguments about self-expression
and solving one’s own problems.
We tell kids that they need to learn
to write in order to write letters to
their grandmothers or to write to-do
lists. The fact that there have been letters written in the past is irrelevant—
everyone’s letter to their grandma is
different. Few teachers tell kids that
they should learn to write in order to
become a great author (few kids will,
or will even find that motivating)
or that it will influence the way they
think (I wonder if even all teachers
believe that, though there’s good cognitive science research suggesting
We do have a harder time arguing
that kids should learn mathematics
when they have calculators at hand.
“What happens if you don’t have a
calculator nearby?” and “You should
know how to check if your answer
makes sense” are both real reasons
for knowing about mathematics
without a calculator, but aren’t very
compelling for elementary school
children. The idea that mathematics
might influence the way one thinks
and problem-solves is again true, but
not compelling for a child. Yet, the
challenge to sell textual literacy or
numeracy is nothing compared to the
challenge of selling computational
How much harder is it to come
up with a reason for coming to know
computation? “There’s an app for
that.” What should we be telling students that they can do with computation that’s different or better than
downloading a readymade piece of
software? What’s the software equivalent of the letter to grandma, that
there’s a compelling reason why your
program should be different from
other programs out there? In part, the
problem is a lack of imagination. As
Alan Kay says, “The Computer Revolution hasn’t happened yet.” How do you
convince kids that there’s a greater
revolution possible out there and they
can be part of making it happen?
So, how do these iPhone ads influence students? Do they convince
students that “Every application that
should be written has been written,
so just buy an iPhone and don’t take
computer science classes”? Or do they
suggest to students that “There are so
many cool applications to be written.
Who do you think wrote that apart-ment-finding application? Could be
you!”? Do the iPhone ads suggest a
universe of possible apps, or suggest
that the applications universe is large
(certainly encompassing every need
you could possibly have), closed, fixed,
and ready for download?
This is a timely article for me as my school
is beginning a STEM initiative and part
of our goal is to convince people that
computing literacy is important for every
student. I am inspired to find a way for my
computer science students to write an app
for a G1 phone or an iPhone. That would be
a very exciting assignment for them—one
they would delightedly share with friends.
And I can’t think of a better way of “selling”
an idea than letting the students do the
selling to each other!
Do you have any resources that would
help me learn how to write apps for mobile
devices? I currently teach students Flash,
Java, C programming for robots, and
some Python. Finding the time to learn
new things can be difficult, but this seems
Hi Debra! There’s a cool class at Stanford
on programming cell phones--my colleague
Sarita Yardi pointed me to it. The class
materials are at http://www.stanford.
edu/class/cs193p/cgi-bin/ index.php, with
more of an overview at http://studentapps.
Some off-CACM respondents suggested
to me that it’s hard to make a utilitarian
argument to students for programming.
It might be better to think about arguing
for programming as a form of expression
(to build or say things that one can’t easily
do in any application, like with Processing,
http://www.processing.org) or to explore
ideas, like in computational science. I found
both to be compelling arguments.
from Tessa Lau’s
Why You need
I’ve been serving on a
lot of selection committees in the past
few years. As you get to be more senior
in your field, you are tapped to participate in these committees more and
more; all this volunteer work is what
makes our field of endeavor possible.
It’s how conferences are run, papers
are accepted or rejected, award winners
are chosen, fellows are nominated.
If you want to succeed in this field,
you need to be well known. One step
you can take toward being more known
is to create a Web page for yourself.
Web presence is also important at
more senior levels, to select speakers
for conferences, to chair a banquet, to
receive an award. Chances are good you
will be selected by a committee that
does not know you personally. In that
case, you need to have a professional
Web page that gives you credibility and
assures them that you are what they are
Based on my experience, here are
the important details to include on your
professional Web page:
˲ Email address
˲ High-level description of your research interests (e.g., HCI and AI)
˲ Current employer and job title
˲ When and where you got your
Ph.D. (or when you expect to get it)
˲ Past and future conference responsibilities
˲ Conferences you have reviewed papers for
˲ List of representative publications
˲ Gender (a photo should be enough)
˲ Awards you have received
Many of these should be on your CV
(if that isn’t on the Web, it should be).
I hope I’ve convinced you why it’s
important to have a Web presence. It’s
particularly important for students and
women in industry research labs to do
this (because you tend to be less visible). Now, go update your Web site!
Mark Guzdial is a professor at the Georgia Institute of
Technology, Greg Linden is the founder of Geeky Ventures
in Seattle, WA, and Tessa Lau is a research staff member
at IBM Almaden Research Center.
© 2009 ACM 0001-0782/09/0700 $10.00