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The Joy of Teaching Computer Science in the Age of Facebook


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University students in a computer science lab.

According to Stanford University professor Mehran Sahami, students today understanding computing's potential far more than students did in the past.

Credit: Kelly Fang/The Daily Californian

In an interview, Stanford University professor Mehran Sahami discussed changes in computer science education over the past three decades. He says students today understand computing's potential and are technology consumers, whereas in the past the average person did not have a computer in their house.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, students did not view computer science as a field full of job opportunities, and entered the discipline only because of a deep interest in the subject, Sahami says. At that time, a single set of requirements existed for all computer science majors.

Today, the field has broadened and numerous subareas such as human-computer interaction and computational biology have emerged. Although the number of students enrolling in computer science dropped significantly from 2000 to 2005 due to the dot-com bubble burst, computer science enrollment is now increasing as the economy turns around and perceptions change about high-tech opportunities.

"When people see companies like Google and Facebook being founded by relatively young people, they feel empowered and think: 'I can do that,'" Sahami says. "And there's the realization that the demand for computing, at least looking out over the next ten years, is certainly going to be there."

He also says that although gender and racial gaps in computing are severe, as computer science enrollment grows, it increasingly reflects the overall population and decreases discrepancies.

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