Home2017-2018The importance of the Computer Science program

The importance of the Computer Science program

By Brett Youtsey
Staff Writer

With the recent announcement that the university is reducing the number of computer science professors I think it is important to remember why this department is so important. Being millenials, we like to think that we understand technology. We may lack technical knowledge, but we have grown in a world saturated in technology. Although it is natural to think that greater exposure to technology makes us more adept, we should not to overestimate the value of our experience. Millennials confuse fluency in using technology with understanding it.

As advancements have been made, so has its usability. The best selling product is not what educates the consumer, but one that is easiest to use. There is a growing disconnect between how technology functions and how technology is used.

In the first days of computers, the user had to navigate through a terminal, and write instructions in a specific syntax. Less memory, storage, and display options meant the computer had to rely more on the understanding of the user. Although older generations seem tech illiterate today, many of them learned how to work with technology in a way that forced critical thinking. These adults may have not learned the newest gadget, but they have kept their brains.    

Millenials, on the other hand, have almost exclusive experience with user interfaces. Today someone can operate a computer without knowing how it works. Using computer is no longer as much of an issue of understanding the technology as learning to use the interface. As a result US millennials have deficits in critical thinking needed in the modern workforce. A 2015 study from the Educational Testing Service, the organization behind GRE tests, showed that millennials in the US scored in the bottom three in PS-TRE (Problem Solving in Technology Rich Environments) among nineteen other nations.

In skills that require critical thinking, older generations tend to perform the better or same as millennials. The study also found an overall decrease in numeracy over the past ten years.

Despite being the best educated generation in history, millenials are falling short in this category. The problem isn’t that we are dumber, the problem is our environment is not challenging us to think. Using an smartphone in this way and browsing the internet does little to prepare millenials for a modern workplace.

Many students come to Willamette with the healthy instinct to learn more about the forces behind the mouse and screen. The computer science department has a great diversity of students from various majors attending introductory courses.

However, if Willamette wants to fully address the skill deficit in millenials, the university needs to place greater emphasis on computer science. The recent decision to shorten the department by a tenured professor, is a step in the wrong direction.

As employers continue to demand skills associated with technology rich environment, the demand for computer science courses will only increase. Not only does the cut force the department to sacrifice upper level courses for majors, but also discourages non-majors from broadening their technical knowledge.

Computer science becomes increasingly interdisciplinary after learning basic programming skills. Offering a wide array of relevant courses will give non-majors incentive to learn the basics.

Maximizing the availability and attractiveness of computer science is the best means of cultivating critical thinking needed in a technology rich work environment.

 

bjyoustey@willamette.edu

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