Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Ernie points to an excellent op-ed by Sanjeev Arora and Bernard Chazelle on the need to communicate the "thrill" of doing computer science. Read the whole thing: but here's another excerpt that's worth meditating on.
Unfortunately, efforts to replicate these efforts elsewhere run into trouble because there are no introductory texts [...] that provide an exciting overview of the “computer science story”—let alone something analogous to the classic “Feynman Lectures in Physics.” [...] Such texts play a vital role in disseminating ideas to frontline educators. There is also a need to write popular accounts. Few computer scientists bother to do this, whereas worldclass physicists (Feynman, Weinberg, Hawking, Greene) have mastered the art of story telling. The NSF Physics Division even lists “working toward early inspiration of the young” as one of its three main goals [9]. Within computer science there is evidence that D.R. Hofstadter’s Pulitzer prize-winning 1979 book “G¨odel, Escher, Bach – An eternal golden braid” attracted an entire generation of students to the field, especially to artificial intelligence.
Not to mention the numerous physics blogs that dot the landscape of the blogosphere. As I had mentioned earlier, we need metaphors to communicate the power and beauty of computer science, and these can only emerge by trying. Blogs are one way; courses are another, and a more visible public presence for those who speak for the science (rather than those who speak for the computer industry) is imperative, if only to lead us away from (IMO) pointless worries about the "practicality" of a computer science education.

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