Hacking stereotypes in educating people about computing

Sep 27 2011 Published by under computer science, education, engineering, social media

Computer science and computer science education are a couple of my evergreen topics here on this blog, as you can see by perusing the computer science tag.

And of course, my trip to Harvard for LIAL this past summer perhaps has that institution on my radar a bit more than usual.

So how wonderful is it to find a way to connect those two things?

Along comes Hacking Stereotypes by Steve Kolowich.

It's about a program called HackHarvard which is part of a series of efforts at Harvard to encourage technology entrepreneurship: and increase enrollments in their basic computing course,

HackHarvard, which is in only its second semester, operates on two premises: that most students cannot turn good ideas into operational apps, nor operational apps into successful businesses, without help; and that there are plenty of good ideas to go around. The club's leaders describe it as an incubator where students can get feedback on their ideas, learn the nuts and bolts of building Web applications, and meet with like-minded peers and potential collaborators.

And which has also seen an increase in enrollments in their basic "Computer Programming for Everybody" course:

After topping out at 386 during the height of the '90s tech boom, enrollment in Harvard's introductory course in programming, known as "CS50," fell precipitously after that bubble burst. In 2002, fewer than 100 students took the course. Then, in 2007, the college revamped the course to make it less wonky and esoteric. By that time, venture capital had begun flowing to social networking start-ups that investors hoped would follow in Facebook's footsteps -- or at least get caught in its orbit. And although The Social Network was not yet on the big screen, the story of Facebook's hapless non-founders was widely known and had a clear moral: in the landscape of tech entrepreneurship, the power lies with those who have good ideas and know how to code them.

This fall CS50 drew 651 students, becoming the second most popular course at Harvard.

There are some very cool stories in the article, well worth checking out and reading in it's entirety.

What I find really interesting is the emphasis on twin ideas: both that computing is an amazing way to solve a wide range of problems and that implementing those ideas on the web is often simple enough to be broadly accessible to a wide cross-section of a normal undergraduate population. And of course, beyond undergrads as well, but I guess that would be another article.

It would be very cool is more institutions took a lesson here from Harvard and perhaps thought a little differently about the place of both entrepreneurship and computing in their curricula.

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