I just got an e-mail from one of my first-quarter Python students. He is a chemistry major, and it turns out that the second-quarter Python course has been scheduled in such a way that it conflicts with a class required by his major. But he’s so engaged by the class and so much wants to continue that he was writing to find a way to take the class despite the conflict. Getting that e-mail made me reflect on the bigger picture in computing education.
In the past decade there have been many opportunities for computer science educators to be frustrated and disappointed. The decline in majors was particularly upsetting, resulting in reductions in computing programs and courses despite the fact that finding people to fill computing-related jobs remains a challenge. As a result, many people and initiatives focused in recent years on finding a way to increase the number of majors, a goal that I acknowledge is very important.
But I am particularly excited about the as-of-yet smaller group of people and initiatives that are focusing on increasing the number of people who learn about computing, even if they don’t major in it. I had a meeting today with some colleagues about revising a grant proposal for the NSF CE 21 program. One of the participants who attended the recent CE 21 PI meeting indicated that a sizable number of people who applied for funding in that program last year were interested in teaching computing to students outside of computing courses. I still think that too many people remain focused on the relationship between computing and STEM courses and that the real potential for future innovation remains in the intersection between computing and other disciplines, like the humanities, art, and music, among others. But that the chorus of people talking about computing and its relationship to other disciplines is growing makes me excited about the future.
So I did a check of my first-quarter Python roster, a class only required of computer science majors or minors. Twenty five of the twenty nine students are computer science majors. But four of the twenty nine aren’t. Three of them are science majors and one is a classics major. This is a class that filled almost instantly and had a waiting list of nearly twenty people for all of December. Were the non-majors the ones who got shut out? Will I see more of those non-majors in the never-before-offered spring-quarter section of the class? I can’t wait to find out.