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Period of Transition: Stanford Computer Science Rethinks Core Curriculum


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Hoover Tower seen through the arches of Memorial Square at Stanford University

Gary Reyes/San Jose Mercury News

Stanford University's computer science faculty embarked on an initiative to reinvent its core curriculum about five years ago.

"We needed to make the major more attractive, to show that computer science isn't just sitting in a cube all day," says Stanford associate chair for education Mehran Sahami. "Computer science is about having real impact in the world."

The goal of the curriculum rethink was to show computer science majors direct, real-world applications of their skills, as well as attract students from other fields to see how computer science impacted their disciplines. Sahami notes, for example, that computers have helped usher in a dramatic transformation in animation, "and artists with a knowledge of computers are increasingly in demand." So that students would have more flexibility, Sahami pared the curriculum to six core courses, three of which focus on theory while the others stress systems and programming. Students can opt for specialist tracks in subjects such as artificial intelligence, systems, theory, graphics, and human-computer interaction.

Stanford's revised computer science program has experienced an 83 percent gain in enrollment in its first two years, and Sahami notes that more than 90 percent of all undergraduates currently take at least one course in computer science.

From Stanford University 
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