Five Big Open Questions in Computing Education
between the haves and have-nots, and machine learning perpetuating prejudices.
Starting with the 1978 ACM Curriculum recommendations,
computing curricula have specified
coverage of ethical issues in computing.
The 1978 recommendations specify
discussion of social, philosophical, and
ethical considerations of applications
in the data structures course, while in
the Computing Curricula 1991 there
was a specification of 11 hours of coverage of social, ethical and professional
issues. Later curricula recommendations as well as ABET accreditation continued to specify similar amounts of coverage of
these issues. We don’t know how many departments’ curricula
satisfied these recommendations, as they could be spread over
many courses and it’s hard to verify if faculty included these discussions. Certain electives like AI and security are more likely
to at least give lip service to these concerns, though we suspect
not much notice was paid in introductory or even core courses.
Given the issues mentioned above, it has certainly become
clear that we as the society at large—and even more, we as computer scientists—need to pay attention to these issues. A recent
article in the New York Times [ 12] describes new ethics courses in CS departments at Harvard, MIT, Stanford, University of
Texas, and Cornell.
Of course, it is not clear this is just a computer science problem. This is a general issue with the impact of technology on
society. It’s also not clear that computer scientists are the best
people to teach such courses, as most of us have no training in
these issues, and it may be more effective to have a mixture of
CS and non-CS students in such a course. Instead it might be
more effective to work with local philosophers and others to
develop a course on ethics and the social impact of technology.
It might be even more effective to have such a course co-taught
by a computer scientist and a specialist in ethics.
That leaves the problem of getting students interested in such
a course. Until recently, that seemed to be the last thing on the
minds of our students. Hopefully these new developments will
wake all of us up to the possible dangers if we don’t think through
the consequences of our development and use of technology.
5. HOW CAN WE ALLEVIATE THE
HIGH DROPOUT RATE IN INTRODUCTORY
It seems strange to be lamenting the high dropout rate in computing at the same time we are suffering from over-enrollment
in CS courses. However, large and increasing numbers of university students need at least some exposure to computing
ideas and skills, and we should be providing them with that experience—even if we don’t want them all to be majors!
Only two groups seem to have gathered much data on pass
rates in introductory programming classes [ 1, 16]. While the
Similar work has been undertaken with members of un-
der-represented minorities, first-generation college students,
White or Hispanic students [ 4].
While further research is surely
needed to find out more about how to
help all students succeed, it is important that we all better understand the
existing research and carry out best
practices to provide all groups with equal opportunity.
3. HOW CAN WE DEVELOP AND SUPPORT
TEACHERS FOR PRE-COLLEGE INSTRUCTION
There have been big pushes in the US and elsewhere to integrate
computing education into pre-college or university curricula.
An example in the US at the high end is the relatively new CS
Principles advanced placement exam in the U.S., designed for
junior and senior high school students. That course has undergone extensive development, with several variants, but seems
clearly designed to introduce students to the ideas behind computing and computational thinking, teaching some programming, but not having that be the focus of the course. The US
government also announced a CS for All project in 2016 with
a stated goal of “offering every student the hands-on computer
science and math classes that make them job-ready on day one.”
England introduced revised computing material into their
school curricula in 2014 after several years of preparation. Coverage of computing material is now mandatory for students
aged 5 to 16. The 2017 report [ 13] addresses the successes and
disappointments in this program. The report indicates that a
major problem is finding and/or training enough teachers to
present this material.
How do we train and support the teachers who will be teaching this pre-college level material? There will likely be few CS
majors who will be interested in teaching computing in the
schools, so most of the teachers will need to be trained with the
appropriate skills and will need resources (both master teachers
on call and materials) to succeed.
4. HOW CAN WE GET STUDENTS TO SERIOUSLY
ADDRESS THE ETHICAL IMPLICATIONS OF
It’s hard to imagine anyone in this era believing that computing
is value-free. Computing can be used for great good—and it can
be used for evil—and, perhaps even worse, it can inadvertently
have grave unintended consequences for society. A few negative examples in the news lately include cyber-hacking, privacy
violations, election tampering, addiction, the increasing gap
How do we train and
support the teachers who
will be teaching this
pre-college level material?