“The importance of computer science, and computer science education, has never been more apparent and urgent,” says Karl Lloyd, PhD, an adjunct professor in the School of Cybersecurity and Information Technology at University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC). “Big-data-driven decision-making technology and algorithms are key to advances in every discipline. Without a continued emphasis on computer science and access to computer science education for everyone, we will lose the digital battlefields in business, in social settings, and in digital warfare.”
Computer science looks a lot different than it used to and so does computer science education. The changes aren’t only in the hardware and software, but in the format and structure of the education itself.
“Today, computer science teaching has become more applied and skills-driven as the industry hires more and more software developers and hardware designers,” says Philip Chan, PhD, an adjunct professor at the UMGC School of Cybersecurity and Information Technology. “Programming technologies have advanced dramatically as well, allowing students to finish more worthwhile projects in a similar amount of time. Meanwhile, computer science theory and algorithms have not diminished in value; they emphasize what matters.”
Dr. Lloyd points out the rise of the user-centered (or user-designed) experience in computer science education: students are increasingly taking certification classes or other online courses from reputable sources, and building custom programs for a fraction of the cost of more traditional educational institutions. Both online and brick-and-mortar schools have to adjust as a result.
“One way for a school to add value in this landscape is to offer expert tutors in the computer science areas and make them readily available to students,” Dr. Lloyd says. “The human connection still makes the difference in a digital world.”
Another major shift in the computer science landscape is its demographic makeup. Historically, computer science in America has been predominantly male, and the Black, Indigenous, and Hispanic demographics have been significantly underrepresented. But as the field increasingly develops innovations meant to be used by and for everyone, it’s put more focus on building a diverse and inclusive talent pool that can match its broader ambitions.
“Recent research points to much higher diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) numbers in computer science and computer science education,” Dr. Lloyd says. “This is encouraging. Beyond the issue of equity, which is more than a sufficient reason, substantial research indicates strongly that diversity improves almost any product or outcome. In possibly only one area—disabled individuals—we still see a large lag in DEI numbers for those interested in computer science. We hope to see an initiative at the federal level to help in this area.”
Federal initiatives can have an enormous impact. The Computer Science for All Initiative of 2016, set forth by President Obama, laid out the groundwork for bolstering the computer science workforce and for making it more inclusive. It did so by addressing the problem early on and empowering students from kindergarten through high school to learn computer science and become active citizens in a digital world.
“Computer science is fundamental in strengthening current education models and serving learners for the future,” Dr. Chan says. “The world is evolving, and programming for children is growing more and more prevalent. I believe that computer science training improves our children's ability to think, engages them with hands-on collaboration and provides them with a bright future.”
Disparities still exist from school to school and state to state, but progress is being made: 31 states have adopted 50 computer science education policies; more than half of all US high schools offer foundational computer science courses; female students now make up 49 percent of the students enrolled in elementary computer science classes; and, in 2021, $65 million was allocated by states for K-12 computer science education, more than any previous year. A major goal for CS Ed Week is to build on top of this momentum and help increase capacity, access, participation, and experience in K-12 computer science education.
“Young students need to have the opportunity to develop an appreciation and passion for CS,” Dr. Lloyd says. “Engaging a student in any subject at a young age is always desirable, and students can benefit from how computer science can help them master other subjects.”
A diverse population that’s literate in computer science can drive the field forward. It can also help meet the challenges that computer science’s innovations have thrust upon society and supply a more diverse range of human perspectives to solve them.
Today, the average citizen is wrestling with how technology is tangled together with issues of data privacy, freedom of expression, cybersecurity, and human rights. To design and select intelligent policy that meets those challenges, the public could benefit from a fundamental understanding of the computer science systems that contribute to them.
“One of the most interesting, and alarming, advances in computer science has been the speed with which ever-growing amounts of big data can be analyzed and used in large multinational platforms such as Facebook,” Dr. Lloyd says. “The design of the algorithms in these highly utilized media forums has the potential to mold and change societal views, cultures, and political outcomes. It will be interesting to see what kind of checks and balances can be developed for these types of media giants.”
Computer science has applications even in non-technological fields, but that’s partially because there are vanishingly fewer non-technological fields to choose from: agriculture, healthcare, and even the arts are harder and harder to imagine without their computer science components. As computer science continues to merge with society, it could (and should) become a subject as broadly applicable and widely studied as other core sciences.
“In the future, computer science will undoubtedly drive life-changing advances in every field, as it has already,” Dr. Lloyd says. “But I cannot help but wonder if we will be ready to handle the dangers that computer science-related technology also brings.”
If society wants to meet those challenges in the future, then it needs a robust, accessible, and equitable system of offering computer science education. To learn more about the state of computer science education today, and how you can get involved, check out some of the resources below.
By reading a select number of engineering blogs, university students can gain access to the thoughts of some of the best engineers in the world, and get on the path to becoming one themselves.
Diversity and inclusivity aren’t purely idealistic goals. A growing body of research shows that greater diversity, particularly within executive teams, is closely correlated with greater profitability. Today’s businesses are highly incentivized to identify a diverse pool of top talent, but they’ve still struggled to achieve it. Recent advances in AI could help.
The ability of a computer to learn and problem solve (i.e., machine learning) is what makes AI different from any other major technological advances we’ve seen in the last century. More than simply assisting people with tasks, AI allows the technology to take the reins and improve processes without any help from humans.
Unlike fungible items, which are interchangeable and can be exchanged like-for-like, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are verifiably unique. Broadly speaking, NFTs take what amounts to a cryptographic signature, ascribe it to a particular digital asset, and then log it on a blockchain’s distributed ledger.
First proposed by computer scientist Nick Szabo in the 1990s and later pioneered by the Ethereum blockchain in 2010, smart contracts are programs that execute themselves when certain predetermined conditions are met.