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UI computer science faculty advocate for broader range of general computer classes

BY DEREK KELLISON | APRIL 11, 2012 6:30 AM

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Computer-science faculty at the University of Iowa are pushing for required computer classes, but such changes may be a long time coming.

The UI requires a formal reasoning class that may be fulfilled by basic computer-science courses, but students also have the option to take logic and reasoning classes.

 

Requiring computer-science classes would expand the UI department's recognition and match a growing national consensus in favor of such requirements, UI Computer Science Department head Alberto Segre said.

"In computation, we're not leaders," he said. "People think of the university as a journalism school or an English school. We don't have a focus on computer science as we do these departments. It would be nice to lead the way in this."

Universities such as Georgia Tech and Montclair State University in New Jersey have made computer science an independent requirement in their general-education programs, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

UI computer-science Assistant Professor Juan Pablo Hourcade noted that computer skills extend beyond coding.

"It's hard to find an area of study that doesn't involve computer science," he said. "In literature, computers are the way people write and how people edit."

Helena Dettmer, an associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said she recognized the Computer Science Department's push and the importance of faculty input in new general-education requirements. However, she said, changing the requirements would take significant time and resources.

"There are several things that deal with costs that factor into the consideration of a program," she said. "We have to factor the number of TAs and their total pay, the space that would be needed to accommodate the program, and the level at which the courses would be taught."

Other education officials spoke of computer skills' growing importance in everyday life.

"We want to make sure kids are prepared for jobs of the future," said James Brown, the executive director of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Coalition, based in Washington, D.C. "Requirements of the workforce will probably change in 10 years. We're just trying to make sure people are informed of where the jobs are."

Outside the workforce, Hourcade said, students would be well off to have a better understanding of computer systems used in life.

"I would like students to have a basic understanding of how we tell computers what to do and understand that everything you do [through a credit or debit card] can be tracked," he said.

Several UI students concurred, despite the subject's difficulty.

"Computer science is not my strong point," said Jacqueline Dunning, a UI freshman studying philosophy and neuroscience. "I definitely see the benefits of [requiring the program for general education.] It's really hard to get by without it nowadays."

UI junior Rachael Black said she agreed.

"I suck at computer science, so I guess it would be a good thing" she said. "That's pretty much going to be the future."


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