Institute for Personal Robots in Education Blog

Skeptics are welcome! Plus some remarks on the state of CS1/CS2...

The goals of IPRE to some seem mundane and not quite 'fresh'. We'll be the first to admit that the ideas are not new. We ourselves have been using robots in undergrduate education for over a decade now! What makes this project exciting is that it is a result of culminating all of our collective experiences of the last 10+ years into technology (personal robots) and curricula (for CS1/CS2 for now) for injecting fresh ideas and approaches to the standard computer science curricula.

It is now widely agreed in the CS education community that most current models of CS1/CS2 are broken. People can (and do) argue at length about whether using robots will solve the current enrollment crisis in computer science. Most even jump to the conclusion that we think that robots are the answer to this complex issue. I'd like to categorically mention that using robots in CS1/CS2 is a way of making the entry into computer science more accessible. This is what we are currently committing ourselves to but also claim that there will be a need for other ways to make the entry into computer science more accessible, interesting, and intellectually challenging. For example, see the Multimedia approach used by Mark Guzdial et alat Georgia tech...

For several decades now most computer science departments have taught a fairly standard version of CS1/CS2. In the last 20 years it appears that the only issue relevant to these courses has been that of the 'right programming language' the extent that most current versions of such courses have degenerated into introductions to the programming language du jour and its features. The true mission of such courses seems to have taken a backseat (or is alltogether missing). In fact, the language issue, in the past five years, has evolved into that of "Which IDE is best?" and "Is objects-first the right approach?"

The other important aspect (side-effect for CS types) of having a single model for CS1/CS2 is that you are inviting only a pre-selected population into computer science. Most students who take CS1 do so knowing that they have some interest in pursuing computing further. Consequently, many students self-select themselves out of such courses. Most who end up being accidental tourists into such courses end up as attrition statictics. Here is a direct confession from a recently retired ACM President:

Whereas in the past we created obstacles to reduce the number of CS majors, today we must recruit students to have the workforce needed to meet the challenges and opportunities of information technology in this century. We should take advantage of the reduced pressures from the dip in enrollments to revamp our curriculum."

-: David Patterson, in Communications of the ACM, March 2006.

Whoa! Well there you go...

The last bit, about the call to revamp curricula, is also indicative of the fact that the community as a whole still hasn't learned the lessons from the last several decades. As long as we keep designing curricula that are driven by the latest technologies and for addressing the perceived or predcited shortages in the workforce we will keep repeating the same mistakes.

So, while the community debates these 'mundane' issues, we're taking on the mundane task of developing a technology that represents the conglomeration of all the good ideas on using robots in education from the last decade and designing fresh (yes, fresh!) curricula to go with it. In fact, in this instance, we are turning the design process inside out...the curricula and the content (that of introducing computing) is driving the design of technology and not the other way 'round.


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