Computing Applications Letter from Chair of Education Board

Education, Always

In a recent issue of Communications, ACM President Vinton Cerf gave an excellent account of what ACM is doing to help reform K–12 education (August 2013, p. 7).
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Andrew McGettrick
Andrew McGettrick is Professor Emeritus at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland, U.K. and the chair of ACM's Education Board and Education Council.

Moreover, he stressed ACM’s position about the fundamental importance of computer science, that it should be regarded as a science on par with other sciences. Education initiatives are having a great impact within the U.S., but beyond the U.S. shores, others are watching and learning.

ACM’s Education Board promotes computer science education at all levels and in all ways possible. In October, ACM Council approved the publication of the CS 2013 report—an exhaustive 10-year effort championed by ACM’s Education Board and IEEE-Computer Society. The curriculum presents many new features, including an outward-facing view of the discipline, facilitating links with multidisciplinary work. It draws attention to the different platforms on which software resides and places considerable emphasis on security. Information Assurance and Security is deemed a new "knowledge area;" moreover, security considerations are to be embedded within the teaching of programming, software development, the human-computer interface activities, databases, networking, and other topic areas to better prepare students for the future.

CS 2013 is the latest in a series of curriculum guidance documents on computer science championed by both organizations; the respective co-chairs were Mehran Sahami from ACM and Steve Roach from the IEEE-CS. The report runs over 500 pages, largely because of considerable efforts invested in providing guidance (often in the form of course exemplars) to a wide variety of interested parties. To view the full report, visit http://www.acm.org/education/curricula-recommendations/.

ACM’s Education Board also responded to a recent request from the National Science Foundation to address how to best direct institutions of higher education on cyber security education as well as how to promote the need to incorporate this track into their courses. A report presenting the Board’s suggestions is now available on ACM’s Educational Activities website (http://www.acm.org/education).

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have been a major topic of discussion. Some commentators see these courses as having the capacity to bring about radical change to educational processes, whereas others hold a more conservative view. The Education Board, having a great interest in MOOCs, is sponsoring the first Learning at Scale (http://learningatscale.acm.org) conference to address MOOCs-related research issues and to help clarify and establish ACM’s position on online learning. This conference is slated to take place in Atlanta in March 2014, just prior to and co-located with SIGCSE 2014.

As we look toward, and prepare for, the future of computing education, I am reminded of Doug Englebart’s 1962 paper "Augmenting Human Intelligence: A Conceptual Framework." There he puts forward the view that computing has a vital role to play, not in making users more intelligent, but in supporting their thinking and their analysis of problems. A subsequent paper draws attention to the bootstrapping implications of this approach. In the research world disciplines like mathematics, physics, chemistry, medicine, and the humanities are all benefitting from great computational power, sophisticated modeling, and advances in data science. But related computational thinking needs to be woven more delicately into the fabric of general education so that students become more effective and efficient learners. Through this approach, all disciplines will benefit.

With information being readily available anywhere and at any time, and with great computing power also immediately accessible, education must respond and change. On current evidence, part of the solution is to pay far greater attention to interactive computing and graphics, simulation and modeling, search, analytics, and machine intelligence (feeding into business intelligence, among others).

Education is an ever-evolving domain, and ACM’s Education Board has always been at the forefront leading the charge for change. Our goal is to best prepare future generations for a truly digital world. Computer education is the entryway to that world, and it is our job to make sure that door is never closed.

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