Take 2 related and heavily discussed issues:
1. What "is" computer science? The verbal wars that have been waged over this question.....yikes. Especially every time a new set of ACM/IEEE curricular guidelines are developed. I (and possibly you) have heard people publicly go for the jugular defending one point of view or another.
2. Why do enrollments in computing programs continue to have high attrition, and a problem attracting students in the first place - especially so-called "under-represented" students? By the way, to state the (hopefully) obvious, computing students overall are under-represented from the pov of numbers in program compared to any one of a large number of other fields.
As I continue to barrel through the book The Innovator's Dilemma (see last two posts) I wonder:
- Is it possible that part of the reason computing struggles for legitimacy among students is because the faculty did not recognize soon enough an increased use of computer science in other fields?
- Is it possible that computing faculty did not recognize the deeper and deeper incursion of computing into other fields for what it was to become - a serious curricular challenge?
- Is it possible that faculty were focusing so heavily on what they had been doing all along, and focusing innovation on traditional areas within the discipline, that they simply were unable to recognize a need to embrace radical curricular and research change and maybe (out on my limb here for sure) a radical re-evaluation of the definition of computer science?
These ideas cross my mind because:
The Innovator's Dilemma demonstrates case after case where established companies (substitute "academic departments") steadfastly focus their innovations on existing customers (substitute "traditional ideas of what a computing student should be interested in and good at"), such that they do not recognize "entrant" companies (substitute "other departments that increasingly rely on computing to support their cutting edge advances") as threats until it is too late and they lose most of their business (substitute "students").
Anecdotal Evidence: I have heard many discussions (as I suspect have you) where the claim is made that computing used in another discipline is "not real computer science". Hence not to be seriously worried about.
- Is it possible that computing programs got into the position they are in with regards to enrollment problems because they did not recognize the nature of future competition?
Maybe yes, maybe no. I'm not going to step into that tar pit.
More important: The historical answer becomes moot if current reality is that other disciplines attract more students than computing attracts, and students find those other disciplines more tractable, and if along the way students acquire enough computer science skills such that they go on to successful careers where computational thinking is required. Minus a degree in computing and all the critical skills and experience brought with it.
If you have not read the The Innovator's Dilemma and know this already, I want to strongly point out that in no way does the above imply companies/departments were doing anything "wrong". In fact, the theory goes out of its way to show how successful corporations that were eventually over-run were following well accepted good management practices and "doing all the right things". That is much of what makes the whole notion of good management missing the boat so fascinating.
To transpose the situation onto computing departments would mean that computing departments were playing to their strengths, following established understandings of what success in computer science teaching and research entailed, and working very hard at attracting those students who had historically been successful. In point of fact, there is a lot (a LOT) of pressure on successful corporations (and by extension disciplines) to keep doing what they have expertise in. And a lot of pressure not to branch out in other risky directions.
I'd sure like to know what computing faculty think about these ideas.
So? What do you think?