Computer science is finally getting some well-deserved respect


Guest post by Doug Bergman, Computer Science Chair, Porter Gaud School

Over the last 5 years, I've been a proud participant in Microsoft's Innovative Expert Educator (MIEE) program. This program reaches thousands of the most innovative and dynamic teachers from all over the world, providing them with community, resources and exposure to new and transformative technology. As the program has grown, I've noticed an interesting phenomenon: more and more MIEEs also happen to be computer science teachers.

Why is this important?

This trend doesn't surprise me. As technology becomes more and more integral to everyday learning, and to the careers we're preparing our students for, the study of how it all works has never been more important.

It starts with educating the world about what computer science is — and what it is not. Computer science is not word processing, keyboarding, spreadsheets, movie-making, photo editing, or creating presentations, even though those are all excellent tools for science, history, math, art, and language classrooms.

In the computer science classroom, we use tools for development, building, programming, reprogramming and creation. We use languages such as Python and C#, and development software like Microsoft Visual Studio, Eclipse and Brackets. We take advantage of the most current technologies, including tablets, LEAP Motion, Mindwave,Finch robots, Xbox360 game controllers, Oculus Rift, andMicrosoft Kinect. It is amazing what students can do when given the chance to explore with technology.

But much more important than the tools we use is our objective. We are preparing students for the world not yet here by exploring bleeding edge technologies. This technology of the future – like virtual reality through Microsoft's HoloLens, wearable technologies using Arduino and Raspberry Pi, and fitness technologies like Movo – will define how today's students work and play as adults. These technologies will let us experience information in completely new ways.

What's changed?

Today, more and more schools are starting to understand the difference between technology as a learning tool and technology as a driver of human development. As a result, these schools also see tremendous value in offering computer science as part of their regular curriculum.

The impetus for computer science curriculum is also coming from other sources. Parents are demanding that schools prepare their students to be leaders in the digital world. Business leaders are telling educators that they need employees who speak "code." As a wise person once said, "Program, or be programmed…"

Schools that are offering true computer science courses are seeing those classes fill up immediately. Students realize, perhaps more than the adults, that those who command technology are the next leaders of academia, business, innovation, science, philanthropy and research. This generation wants to solve the problems in the world around them. And they want to do more than use technology tools, they want to create something — whether that's making their own app, building their own computer, programming their own educational game, controlling their own robot, designing a database for their website, or creating a new software program.

The new normal

Today, schools increasingly view computer science as a regular discipline, just like language, math, history or science. Students view the subject as approachable and inclusive; in some cases, more so than physics or math. Colleges are now looking for computer science experience in their incoming freshman. In some states, such as Georgia, , for example, computer science counts toward high school graduation requirements, and state colleges recognize it as a qualified math and science course.

Not only are schools teaching computer science, outside organizations are increasingly offering opportunities for students and teachers to gain experience in developing technology. Efforts like the Air Force Association's CyberPatriot program, the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT)'s Aspirations in Computing initiative, and Microsoft's YouthSpark are just a few of these, and they address all levels of experience.

Your turn

As a long-time computer science educator who has often defended my subject from being misunderstood and undervalued, I'm thrilled to see the tide turning. Computer science is truly the language of the 21st century, a universal way of communicating that fosters collaboration in the classroom and around the globe. Whatever subject you teach, I encourage you to explore computer science, a subject whose time has come. Getting started is simple: just visit Code.org's Hour of Code, and you'll be on your way.

To learn more about computer science education, be sure to follow me on the Microsoft Educator community.

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