I am adding
— Kraftwerk, “Pocket Calculator”
I often tell students that computer programming is like drawing — learning and practicing it opens up new ways of seeing the world, and new ways of creatively giving shape to ideas. I’ve long thought that everyone should be able to program, at least a little bit, and so I was thrilled to see a recent post on Berkeley’s blog, Why are English majors studying computer science?, that reports a phenomenal increase in the number of students taking computer science courses:
Notably, the uptick is not just due to STEM students, but rather a broad swathe of the university (the “English majors” of the post’s title). The author writes:
So what happened? First, today’s students recognize that “computational thinking” — problem analysis and decomposition, algorithmic thinking, algorithmic expression, abstraction, modeling, stepwise fault isolation — is central to an increasingly broad array of fields. Programming may be a valuable skill, but the hands-on, inquiry-based way in which one learns to think computationally is priceless.
I agree! The graph reports data from Berkeley, Stanford, and the University of Washington. I was curious if the same thing is happening here at the University of Oregon. Thanks to friendly colleagues, I can make the local graph:
(The axes aren’t quite the same; roughly 4 student credit hours correspond to one student taking one class. The data shown are for “general education” computer science courses, which include introductory lower-division classes.) Again, we see a strong surge of interest in computer science courses, which is fantastic. The increase seems more sudden here than elsewhere; I don’t know what this means.
More broadly, I wonder if anyone has surveyed students, especially from groups or majors that would have been unlikely to be taking computer science courses five years ago, and asked what their motivations for learning to program are. Have they caught on to the aesthetic appeal of coding? Are they betting it will enhance their employability, or their chances for fame and fortunate? Is it simply cool to say that you can program? It would be fascinating to find out. (This is addressed somewhat in the Berkeley post, but it’s not clear whether the explanations are based on actual data.)
If you’re unfamiliar with the quote at the top, from Kraftwerk, listen here:
I originally had the more appropriate, “I program my home computer / Beam myself into the future,” from “Home Computer,” also by Kraftwerk, but it’s not as good a song. I attempted recently to address my paucity of Kraftwerk albums at a local CD store, but learned that someone had come the day before and cleared out the whole stock, from which you can conclude that (i) I am one of the few people left who buy CDs, and (ii) I have an unknown nemesis, who so far is staying one step ahead of me.